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  • Kyleigh Krames

Netanyahu’s Judiciary Overhaul Failed: What Next?

Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. A talented politician, Netanyahu maintains his reign by using a perplexing mixture of “sound policy and cynically sowing division”. The Prime Minister keeps the various demographics in Israel separated as he champions himself to be the solely capable representative of the Israeli Jewish population, and thus the best option for their voices to be heard in government.

 Israel’s most recent governing coalition consists of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party merged with the Religious Zionism Party. This right-wing coalition came to power after electoral victories in 2022, in part attributed to increasing fears of identity erosion.

However, despite being re-elected by a voter base dedicated to keeping him in office and out of the court of law, a large proportion of Israelis have been outwardly upset with him since his coming to power. This is due to overtly anti-democratic policies that were passed once he established his coalition which Yuval Harari, a Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, refers to as a government of “messianic zealots and shameless opportunists.” 

Israelis have been publicly protesting against this regime of loyalists since it was sworn into power in November 2022, and those protests worsened after the Prime Minister passed a law diminishing the power of the state’s Supreme Court. 

Less than a week after his newest coalition was established, Netanyahu passed a law abolishing the “reasonableness doctrine”. This judiciary principle enables the Supreme Court to limit the power of the legislative branch, ensuring policy enacted by the government is sensible and adheres to Israel’s legal principles. Without it, the executive branch of the government has the ability to enact any legislation without fearing the Supreme Court’s veto power. The Bill also includes reforms that would allow Parliament to override decisions made by the judiciary and give politicians full authority over Supreme Court appointees. This move has been interpreted by liberal Israelis and politicians as an attempt to erode Israel’s democracy by eliminating its system of checks and balances. Proponents of this view worry that it may potentially result in greater religious restrictions, a de-facto-ban on Arab-minority parties running for elections, and annexation of more parts of the West Bank. 

Eliminating the reasonableness doctrine also induced fear among medical professionals, who believe the removal of the doctrine will eventually call for the discrimination of patients under the guise of reasonableness. Last year, doctors staged weekly protests to assert their belief that patients have a right to health care at a reasonable quality, within a reasonable time and at a reasonable distance from their place of residence. Doctors, with lawyers and teaching professionals, also called for strikes at places of work. 75% of the Israeli Medical Association (IMA), which is said to represent approximately 95% of doctors, called for continuous strikes as a mode of action with 90% voting in favor of any action at all. Demonstrating the professionals’ fear that medical care will be weaponized and distributed unfairly amongst “Arab and Jew, men and women”. 

The Supreme Court President, the head of the Israeli Bar Association, and several former chief justices went on the record to criticize any move that would limit the independence of the judiciary, fearing democratic backsliding. 400 executives, investors, and high-tech workers wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, in fear of devastating consequences the overhaul law might have on Israel and the economy. Many similar letters have been sent to officials or published in the media expressing concern over negative effects this judicial reform could have on Israeli democracy, penned by retired ambassadors, academics of humanities, and even more than 1000 ex-Air Force officials

As of January 2024, however, the law was ultimately nullified by the Supreme Court in an eight to seven vote. The Prime Minister already governs through a majority coalition in Parliament, meaning he has ultimate authority over the executive and legislative branches. Diminishing the Supreme Court’s oversight was viewed by the Chief Justices as an attempt to consolidate power against the only independent branch in government.

The decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Netanyahu’s reform is a win for the liberal Israelis who  believe the judiciary overhaul law was the first step in Netanyahu’s agenda to achieve unbridled legislative freedom. In light of general anti-democratic legislation and as events in Gaza unfold, the democratic nature of the Israeli government is more in question than ever before. Only time will tell whether Netanyahu will continue to be met with resistance as he continues to consolidate power, or if he will be able to rally the people behind him once more by casting himself as the unquestionable leader in a time of great unrest.


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