Ex-Supreme Court Presidents Slam Netanyahu for Promoting Bill to Override Israel's Top Court

'If I were president today, I would consider resigning,' says Aharon Barak, arguing override clause would harm citizens ■ Dorit Beinisch says backers 'want to change the entire system for personal motives'

Former Israel's Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, Israel, May, 2019.

Former Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinisch harshly criticized Thursday moves by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters to prevent the High Court of Justice from intervening in Knesset decisions.

"I think that if I were the Supreme Court president today, I would consider resigning. The Supreme Court's main role is to protect democracy and the constitution, which it can't fulfill when it lacks the measure to do so," Barak told Channel 13 News.

>> Read more: How a bill to override Israel's top court would help Netanyahu ■ Analysis: Netanyahu’s assault on judiciary will lead to rule without restraint

According to Barak, the so-called override clause to prevent the Supreme Court from interfering with an illegal decision by the Knesset, which Netanyahu is promoting would cause disproportionate damage to the court and harm the Israel's citizens.

"The override clause will harm the Supreme Court, causing a dramatic change. Disproportionate damage to the court would become constitutional," Barak said.

Barak stressed that those to be harmed the most are Israel's citizens, rather than the court.

“People don’t understand what’s really happening here,” Barak's predecessor, Beinisch, said earlier on Thursday in an interview with Mordechai Gilat and Tamar Almog on Kan Bet public radio, arguing Netanyahu's backers "want to change the entire system for ulterior and personal motives. This is the most critical battle there is."

File photo: Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Israel's High Court, Jerusalem, 2011.
Moshe Milner/GPO

“Someone with paranoia is ready to burn down the clubhouse,” Beinisch said, referring to Netanyahu’s campaign to limit the High Court’s right to judicial review of Knesset decisions.

Beinisch went on the air hours after MK Miki Zohar (Likud) urged the advancement of legislation to immunize MKs from becoming targets for law enforcement authorities, which object to the legislation to clip the court’s wings.

“This is a dangerous campaign that is harmful first and foremost to Israel’s citizens,” Beinisch said. “Such a broad reform cannot be made just to enable someone to escape justice. It’s inconceivable,” she said.

“I knew the prime minister, during my work, as a man who on more than one occasion defended the justice system,” she said. “In this case, apparently because of personal interests, the wheel has turned around and a very dangerous campaign is being waged against a magnificent justice system, which has worked professionally for years and has won worldwide acclaim.

“For a long time I’ve been hearing shocking things,” Beinisch said. “That Israel’s law enforcement system goes after people for political reasons, so MKs and the prime minister must protect themselves from the system. I’m hearing of a powerful campaign to harm the justice system, to diminish it.”

Beinisch said that such statements, spread by Netanyahu’s campaign to avoid indictment, are deceiving the public. “I don’t know if the public has tools to check how many lies and how much nonsense is being spread against the justice system,” she said.

Beinisch said Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit “is a highly accomplished man who has worked with the prime minister and has no reason to harm him. This isn’t a political issue, the people working in the justice system are devoted and do their work. The attorney general is one of the most important positions in the justice system. Suddenly he’s become a clerk who has it in for the prime minister?”

Asked about Mendelblit’s postponement of Netanyahu’s hearing, Beinisch said: “I’m not familiar with the case’s details and the argument about how much time is required to study the material, but that too must be proportionate. You can’t do away with all the decisions by delays. It raises again the suspicion that in order to get immunity, and to restrict the court for the sake of ensuring the immunity, they’re ready to destroy all the rules. This is extremely grave.”

Noting the government’s singling out of the justice system, she said, “We haven’t heard of plans to reform the hospitals and health system, where patients are lying in the corridors, or to protect people from violence, or work safety, as construction workers fall to their death. Nothing is happening here except the justice system that is ruining the state. Does that make sense? It’s impossible to conclude that there are real considerations at work here.”