Far-right Leader Demands New Gov't Pass Bill to Override High Court Within 60 Days

Bill does not recognize court’s right to rule laws unconstitutional and allows the Knesset to pass laws that violate Basic Laws - specifically the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty

Bezalel Smotrich in a debate in the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Union of Right-Wing Parties will not join a government coalition under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if a bill giving the Knesset the power to override Supreme Court decisions is not passed within 60 days of establishing the new government, Bezalel Smotrich, chairman of the National Union party, said on Tuesday.

“If Netanyahu wants a right-wing government and wants to keep his promises to his voters, he must pass this law, otherwise he won’t have a government,” said Smotrich. “Netanyahu is aware of this demand.”

The power to override Supreme Court rulings means the Knesset will be allowed to vote again to approve laws that have been shot down by the Supreme Court. The version of the bill that Smotrich backs enables the Knesset to enact laws that violate Basic Laws, Israel’s partial equivalent of a constitution. Today, such laws can be enacted, but they are subject to court oversight, must be proportional and cannot contradict the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

Smotrich’s version of the bill would apply the override clause specifically to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. A new law that violates this Basic Law could be passed and enforced for a period of four years – after which it would have to be reenacted on a permanent basis. The proposal requires only a regular majority – not a supermajority – to pass a law again after the Supreme Court overruled it.

The proposed law also explicitly does not recognize the Supreme Court’s power to rule laws unconstitutional. In comparison, the new Basic Law on the Judiciary, proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, does list conditions under which the court could intervene in legislation – though these conditions are more restrictive than what the court had decided in the past.

Smotrich is not the only politician who has announced they will promote the court override bill in the next Knesset. Moshe Feiglin of Zehut has also promised to restrict the Supreme Court’s powers to overrule legislation.

The outgoing government agreed to promote the bill, but because Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon gave his Kulanu party lawmakers the right to vote according to their consciences, it was impossible to pass the bill in the current Knesset.

Smotrich said that according to the understandings between the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Likud, his party would receive two ministerial portfolios in the next government if Netanyahu is chosen to lead it. He said the party was interested in the education and justice minister positions. “These are two very important portfolios that we are marking for ourselves. This is what we want to ask for and, if we have the political strength, we will get it,” said Smotrich. The Union and Netanyahu have agreed not to attack one another in order to increase the size of the right-wing bloc, he added.