Israeli Justice Ministry bypassing the High Court
The legal system and the relationship between the High Court and the Knesset are too precious to be turned into a political pawn.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has pulled out an old-new way to bypass the High Court of Justice. This happened just after the court ruled unconstitutional the law that lets yeshiva students defer army service. This ruling is threatening the stability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.
Now the Justice Ministry has published a preliminary draft of a bill that would become the Basic Law on Legislation. It would allow the Knesset, with the support of at least 65 MKs, to pass a law that has been struck down by the High Court.
The suspicion that the preliminary draft was tailored to the coalition's needs stems from the gap between the bill's current version and the version recommended by a committee that Neeman himself chaired in 2004. That committee advised that 70 MKs be required to pass a bill that has been struck down by the High Court.
Hopefully, lawmakers this time won't allow their constituencies' narrow interests to prevent the rehabilitation of the relationship between the people and their government. Reducing the number of MKs to 65 from 70 undermines the contribution the new Basic Law on Legislation would make to Israeli democracy.
The justice minister must explain to the people what has changed since he recommended that at least 70 MKs be needed to override the High Court. Even that number should be higher - to prevent unconstitutional legislation or infringements of human rights.
The justice minister needs to offer the public an expiation to his decision to reduce the number of MKs that are required to relegislate a law. Another clause in the preliminary draft would allow the law to be extended every five years indefinitely. Can Neeman promise that this same relatively small majority won't do exactly that? In certain cases this could annul High Court rulings that were intended to protect citizens from the tyranny of the majority and unfair rulings by the executive branch.
The legal system and the relationship between the High Court and the Knesset are too precious to be turned into a political pawn. Since this is not the first time Neeman has tried to damage this delicate fabric, the prime minister must tell Neeman to start a dialogue with High Court President Asher Grunis, who was not privy to discussions on the draft. The prime minister must do this before he puts his proposal on the cabinet table and submits it to the Knesset.
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