Netanyahu Wants Elections? The Latest Political Crisis Gripping Israel

Netanyahu plans to sponsor legislation that would restrict the High Court's ability to invalidate Knesset laws - legislation Kahlon would oppose

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem December 24, 2017
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to sponsor legislation that would restrict the High Court of Justice’s ability to invalidate laws passed by the Knesset, coalition sources said.

At a meeting of the forum of coalition party heads on Wednesday, Netanyahu said he supports the proposal by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin that would basically negate the court’s authority to strike down legislation by allowing the Knesset to override the court in all cases. Earlier Wednesday, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said that his party, Kulanu, would oppose any bill that would restrict the High Court in a sweeping fashion, and would only support an override clause that is specific to the issue of asylum seekers.

Senior sources in the political arena believe that Netanyahu is deliberately choosing to confront Kahlon on the issue to force early elections. The Kulanu chairman has repeatedly and publicly committed himself not to allow the High Court to be undermined, and has said that a general override clause fails to honor the separation of powers in Israel. Kahlon did not attend the meeting of coalition leaders.

“Briefings from the Prime Minister’s Office show he wants elections,” a coalition source said. “His supposed determination to enact the override law can only mean he wants to push Kahlon to the wall and find an excuse to hold elections, on the ticket of ‘restoring the balance between the Knesset and the courts.’”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Levin told Habayit Hayehudi chairman Education Minister Naftali Bennett that the latter’s party wants “only a pinpointed override clause. That’s a weak proposal. We want to advance a stronger and broader bill. I spoke with [Habayit Hayehudi MK Betzalel] Smotrich and he admitted that his proposal was problematic and that there are better models, like the British one that doesn’t allow laws to be struck down but only a [court] recommendation that the legislature reconsider the law.

“To go now for a limited override clause will cause damage because it won’t hold up to High Court scrutiny, as happened with the override clause on the military draft law,” Levin said.

Bennett later tweeted that the version of the bill Netanyahu is proposing still gives the High Court freedom to act, and that his party would support any version of the bill put forward.

“I was pleasantly surprised today by the strong words of the prime minister regarding the override clause,” he wrote. “The prime minister suggested that the High Court of Justice be able to recommend the annulment of laws, but it cannot actually annul them. The passage of this bill will enable the removal of infiltrators, the expulsion of terrorists, and more. We will support any version of law that is submitted. But with all due respect to the tough talk, we expect the prime minister to act. “

Last week it was reported that Netanyahu planned to sponsor legislation that would allow the government to reopen the Holot detention facility — which was shut down by order of the High Court — in order to incarcerate asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country for up to three years . The override bill would enable this law to be reinstated even if it’s struck down by the High Court.

At the same time, the government is making an effort to reach an agreement with Uganda on deporting asylum seekers there. But a deal with Uganda would eliminate the need for an override bill that relates solely to asylum seekers. However, if the bill is dropped, Netanyahu can expect criticism from the right over his government’s failure to restrain the court. Therefore, Netanyahu asked Levin to bring a broader version of the bill to Wednesday’s meeting.