MKs to Debate Bill That Would Limit Freedom to Petition Israel's High Court

Bill initiated by Likud MKs Yariv Levin, Danny Danon aims to reduce number of petitions submitted in recent years; petitioners often have no direct connection to issue at hand.

A bill that would restrict the ability to file petitions against government actions in the High Court of Justice is due to be debated Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

The bill, initiated by Likud MKs Yariv Levin and Danny Danon, is aimed at reducing the flood of such petitions submitted in recent years, often by petitioners who have no direct connection to the issue at hand.

Likud MK Danny Danon
Emil Salman

On Wednesday former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak weighed in for the first time on the spate of court-related bills going through the Knesset, which are seen by some as an attack by the right on the judicial system.

"There is no democracy without majority rule, but democracy is not just majority rule," Barak told a group of Tel Aviv University students.

Yariv Levin

"This is a simple truth that some operating in the political realm don't understand," he said, adding, "Majority self-restraint is also democracy."

In explaining their bill to limit High Court petitions, Levin and Danon wrote, "There is a need "to set criteria that balance the use of this critical tool, using parameters to assure the soundness of the process and to preserve the link between the alleged harm and the identity of the petitioner."

Under the bill, human rights groups not registered in Israel and whose main activities are not in Israel would not be permitted to petition the High Court. Nor would a group be allowed to file a petition over a wrong ostensibly being done to someone, unless that individual himself petitioned the court as well.

Petitions of a general nature would only be permitted regarding issues of substantial constitutional import to the conduct of government, or if the harm that might be done to the public is substantial and palpable.

Moreover, any group who files such a public petition and accepts donations from abroad, would be required to report its funding sources to the court, to prevent the "irrelevant motives of interested or hostile groups" from getting a hearing under the guise of a public petition.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first public reference to his decision to support the bill that would amend the Libel Law.

"It may be called the Libel Law, but I call it the 'publication of truth law,'" Netanyahu said. "This law isn't aimed against those who write the facts, but against those who distort the facts, as determined by a court.

"Everyone has the right to broadcast, to write and to investigate. No one has the right to slander," he said.

Earlier, Netanyahu was criticized by Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ) who compared the legislation to George Orwell's book "1984."

"The screen can continue to work, the newspaper can go to print and the radio can broadcast, but all under the watchful eye of Big Brother - and his eye is always watching," Mofaz said. "1984 is here, and it's awful."

Meanwhile, the sponsor of the so-called Grunis Law, MK Yaakov Katz (National Union ) told Eretz Yisrael Shelanu that the purpose of the bill, which has passed its first reading, is "to take the court of the hands of a small, dismal group of elitist Tel Avivians."

The bill would allow Supreme Court Justice Asher Grunis, the court's most senior member, to replace court President Dorit Beinisch when she retires in February - even though Grunis would be one month short of the three years the law now requires a court president to serve before mandatory retirement at age 70.

In the past, Katz had always presented the bill as correcting a technicality, with no ideological implications.