Bennett Teams Up With Coalition Chair to Curb Supreme Court Powers

Officials in Habayit Hayehudi and Likud say decision to join forces was, among other things, to 'take revenge' on Tzipi Livni after last week's report that she plans to revolutionize religious services delivery.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin (Likud) are cooperating to advance a series of bills aimed at reducing the power of the Supreme Court.

While this is the first time Bennett has explicitly declared his intention to lead a legislative battle against the court, “the connection between Bennett and Levin is largely declarative,” said a source in Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party Sunday. “After all, it’s clear that Habayit Hayehudi would have supported Levin’s bills, and that Levin would support most Habayit Hayehudi initiatives. They’re hooking up to make some noise in the media.”

The bills in question were submitted over the past few months and have been widely reported in the media. They include proposals to cancel the appointment of the Supreme Court president based solely on seniority, to alter the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee, legislation to circumvent the overturning of laws by the Supreme Court and a bill that gives priority to the state’s Jewish identity over its democratic identity.

Officials in Habayit Hayehudi and Likud say that the decision to join forces was, among other things, an effort to “take revenge” on Justice Minister Tzipi Livni following a report in Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday about her plan to revolutionize the delivery of religious services.

“She stole our suggestions from right under our noses,” said a Habayit Hayehudi source. “Her decision to get involved in areas that we deal with upset a lot of people.”

Other political sources noted that on Friday Bennett and his faction head, MK Ayelet Shaked, contacted Levin with a proposal to cooperate. Whatever the case, political observers said Sunday that this joining of forces is likely to increase tension between Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with other coalition partners.

Habayit Hayehudi and Levin plan to continue to promote a bill from last June aimed at changing the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee by reducing the weight of the Supreme Court justices and increasing the influence of the political leadership on the panel. Levin argues that the current composition allows the three Supreme Court justices and two Israel Bar Association representatives to form a blocking majority against the committee’s four ministers and Knesset members, and thus impose controversial judicial appointments.

After the High Court of Justice last month invalidated the amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law that allows the incarceration of asylum seekers from Africa for up to three years, Shaked announced she would push for legislation that would allow the legislature to re-legislate a law struck down by the court, on condition that the law is ratified every few years. This model was adopted in the 1990s by the Rabin government after the court overturned a law prohibiting the import of nonkosher meat, when the government added a “notwithstanding clause” to the Basic Law on the Freedom of Occupation. Now the coalition will try to promote the insertion of a “notwithstanding clause” to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.

The bill on the state’s Jewish identity has been in processing for several months, but it faces serious obstacles since both Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid have declared they will block its approval.

Sunday's Yedioth Ahronoth report on the Bennett-Shaked-Levin initiative generated stormy responses from the political arena. Livni attacked the plan, saying it was aimed at weakening the principle of the separation of powers and sought to determine that religious belief is more important than democracy.

“I will fight any effort to undermine the Supreme Court and the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” she said. “The politicization of the judiciary will not only weaken its status and function in maintaining our values as a democratic state, but will also lead to the loss of public confidence in the system.”

Levin responded, “The responsibility of the justice minister is to protect the public interest and not blindly serve the handful of judges who control the justice system,” adding the fear gripping the minority “that seeks to control us through the court system” was evident.

“The struggle that I led almost alone at the beginning has become a broad public struggle, and I am determined to ensure that the rights and wishes of the majority are reflected in comprehensive legislation that will restore the legal system to a more Jewish, Zionist and democratic path.”

New Industry minister Naftali Bennett cuts price of standard bread.Credit: AP

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