‘A Mortal Wound to Democracy’: Israel’s Chief Justice Slams Netanyahu’s Legal Overhaul

Hayut said that the override clause will allow the Knesset to ‘override human rights’ ■ AG: ‘Majority rule is indeed a necessary condition for democracy to exist, but it is not a sufficient condition’ ■ Justice Minister Levin: ‘It’s a call to bring mayhem to the streets’

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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High Court Justice Esther Hayut speaking at a conference of the Israeli Association of Public Law in Haifa, on Thursday.
High Court Justice Esther Hayut speaking at a conference of the Israeli Association of Public Law in Haifa, on Thursday.Credit: Rami Shlush
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s plan to radically overhaul Israel’s judiciary “will shatter the judicial system and is in fact an unrestrained attack,” High Court President Esther Hayut said on Thursday.

Speaking at a conference of the Israeli Association of Public Law in Haifa, Hayut said that the override clause – which would allow the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions by a bare majority in the 120-seat parliament, 61 seats – will enable the Knesset to “override human rights.”

Newly-appointed Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plan to reform the judiciary “is meant to be a mortal wound to the independence of the judiciary, and to turn it into a silent institution,” she asserted.

Hayut said the clause “will deprive the court of the option to override laws that disproportionately violate human rights, including the right to life, property, freedom of movement, as well as the basic right of human dignity and its derivatives – the right to equality, freedom of speech and more.”

High Court Justice Esther Hayut, on Thursday.Credit: Rami Shlush

“The planned override clause authorizes the Knesset, with the support of the government, to make laws without obstruction that would hurt these rights. That’s why anyone who thinks that this override clause overrides the court is mistaken. It’s actually an override of human rights in every aspect of Israeli society.”

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, also speaking at the conference, said that “the bills being advanced these days are based on the convention that majority rule is the fundamental principle of democracy. Majority rule is indeed a necessary condition for democracy to exist, but it is not a sufficient condition.

“Separation of powers, safeguarding the rights of the individual and preventing the exercise of arbitrary power against minorities are fundamental values. Without them, there will be no full democracy,” she said.

Responding to Hayut and Baharav-Miara’s speeches, Levin called the Supreme Court “an additional party that is trying to place itself above the Knesset and above the people.” He blamed Hayut for “calling on people to burn up the streets. We didn’t hear neutrality, we didn’t hear a balanced judicial position. Her joining Yair Lapid proves the judiciary has lost its way.”

Former Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar wrote on Twitter: “Hayut, in an excellent speech, did well to explain the damage that could be done to the rights and freedoms of citizens of Israel if the plan to demolish the judiciary goes ahead as planned. As I’ve said during the election campaign, this is a move to change the rule of law in Israel. All those who love freedom, regardless of political leanings, must join together in the fight for Israel’s future.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid also backed Hayut on Twitter, quoting her words that “Democracy is not only the rule of the majority, the majority did not give anyone an open check to do as they pleased,” He added: We “will stand together with her in the fight for the spirit of the country and against the attempt to dismantle Israeli democracy.”

Earlier on Thursday, hundreds of lawyers, former judges and legal professionals demonstrated outside of courts across the country in opposition to the new government’s plan to weaken the judicial system.

“The goal is to illustrate to the public that the changes to the system mean de facto – shutting down the judiciary,” the protest leaders said.

At the Tel Aviv demonstration, participants waved signs reading “Politicians without borders – will turn on us too” and “Destroying the vision of the state.”

The protest is geared against Levin’s broad plan to overhaul the judicial system. This includes changing the makeup of the committee for appointing judges, which will give the government more control over the selection process.

Former President Reuven Rivlin also came out strongly against the proposed reforms, saying that “it is not acceptable to pass laws out of a sense of vengeance or impure motives.” In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, the former president – in his first comments about the proposed reforms – called for the introduction of a Basic Law to regulate the legislative process. “Despite the atmosphere that has been created,” he said, “it is not too late to reach an agreed upon path.”

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