Israeli High Court Hears Petition Against Gantz’s Alternate Prime Minister Role

Petitioners argue that the new role of alternate prime minister, held by Benny Gantz, has in fact allowed two separate, competing administrations

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Chief Justice Esther Hayut sits in the High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, October 27, 2020.
Chief Justice Esther Hayut sits in the High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, October 27, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The Israeli High Court of Justice is hearing a petition on Tuesday to rescind the role of alternate prime minister, which was carved out for Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz as part of a deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu’s Likud to establish a coalition government in April 2020.

The petitioners, which include the Movement for Quality Government, left-wing political party Meretz, as well as the New Contract and Israel Democracy Watch movements, are asking the court to cancel the amendment to the Basic Law on the Government, passed in May, that made this position possible.

They argue that since the role of prime minister does not actually rotate between Netanyahu and Gantz, the amendment has in effect allowed for the creation of two separate governments, each with a different prime minister, paralyzing government operations and hurting Israel’s democratic parliamentary tradition.

They also argue that the amendment “was passed via inappropriate use of Knesset authority, improper procedure, which means it must be annulled.”

The head of the Movement for Quality Government’s economic unit, Ariel Barzilai, says that “this government was born in sin and all Israeli citizens are paying for it in these challenging times, both financially and in terms of their health.”

Chief Justice Esther Hayut, who, along with Justices Hanan Melcer and Neil Handel, was on the panel hearing the petition said during the session, broadcast live on television, that “the court has never cancelled a basic law or an amendment to a basic law on ground of it being illegal. This is a doctrine that is not recognized by most of the countries in the world.”

Israel has no constitution but its basic laws are largely regarded as having the equivalent status of such a document. Adopting the practice of rejecting Basic Laws would raise "a major concern," Hayut added.

Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) at a meeting in Ramle, Israel, July 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

In May, the court rejected a petition against the coalition agreement between Likud and Kahol Lavan, the deal that allowed Netanyahu to establish the current government after three undecided elections. Justices wrote then that “this is an extraordinary coalition deal, parts of which present considerable challenges,” but ruled that “at this time there is no room to intervene in any of its clauses.”

Tuesday’s session was broadcast live as part of a pilot program to broadcast choice sessions of the High Court to expand the principle of allowing public access to the discussions. The sessions chosen for broadcast are those that have to do with groundbreaking and other high profile issues.

A live stream of the petition hearing.

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