High Court Agrees to Hear Petition on Eliminating Deputy PM Position

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 1, 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 1, 2020Credit: Adina Wallman / Knesset speaker's office
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Supreme Court Justice George Karra gave his agreement on Tuesday for the court, sitting as Israel’s constitutional court, to hear demands to eliminate the position of deputy prime minister. The High Court of Justice had refused to hear previous petitions on the matter.

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The petitioners demand the abrogation of the amendment to the Basic Law on the Government, passed by the Knesset in May, regulating the position of deputy prime minister in accordance with the coalition agreement between Likud and Kahol Lavan. The agreement states that Benny Gantz, currently the deputy prime minister, will switch roles with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 18 months.

The petition was filed by the Movement for Quality Government, the Meretz party and two civil society organizations: Hozeh Hadash and Mishmar Hademokratia Ha’israelit (Israel Democracy Guard).

According to the Movement for Quality Government, the amendment “is a fundamental change to Israel’s system of government that amounts to ‘constitutional replacement’ of the existing system of government.” The organization “demands the annulment of the amendment due to its misuse by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who seeks to create a new constitutional regime for protection against criminal charges, and Minister Gantz, who seeks to introduce this constitutional-governmental amendment for short-term political reasons that stem from distrust of Netanyahu.”

In May, the High Court unanimously rejected petitions against the coalition agreement. The justices wrote that while the coalition agreement was “unusual” and that some of its provisions raised “significant difficulties,” there were no legal grounds for interfering with any of its articles at the moment. The High Court heard the petitions before the amendment was passed in the Knesset, and the justices ruled that the court does not interfere with the legislative process before it is completed.

At the same time, the High Court also heard arguments against permitting Netanyahu to form the government in light of his indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The justices ruled that the law does not bar a legislator who has been charged with criminal offenses from being asked to form a government, and it follows from this that they are not barred from heading that government.

The justices added, however, that it was wrong to settle for what was permitted by the law and that the principle of “the letter of the law is one thing and good judgment is another” should be applied.