Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) has fired his defence minister Yoav Gallant over his opposition to the planned judicial overhaul. Gallant was the first high-ranking member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who spoke out against the government’s plan to bestow itself more powers over the Supreme Court. He had urged the PM to abandon the controversial proposals, which have divided the country, triggering widespread protests and deepening political crisis.
Tensions have been running high for over 13 weeks since Bibi announced his plans to “reform” the Supreme Court in February. Gallant’s dismissal prompted tens of thousands to take to the streets, demanding Bibi’s removal and imprisonment. Protestors draped in blue and white Israeli flags blocked roads, lit large bonfires, and clashed with police. Security forces used water cannons to get rid of protestors gathered outside the PM’s private home in Jerusalem.
The unrest has raised concerns among Israeli allies, most notably the United States. This civilian uprising is also gaining a lot of attention on social media with many standing in solidarity with the protestors.
Why Netanyahu’s Judicial Overhaul is a Problem?
The Israeli government wants to restructure the country’s legal system by proposing changes that limited Supreme Court’s power to rule against the legislature and the executive. These proposals will allow the Israeli parliament (Knesset) to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes out of 120. Moreover, the plan also seeks to strip the Supreme Court of its authority to review the legality of Israel’s Basic Laws, which function as the country’s constitution.
It has sparked fears that the proposed legal reforms may further weaken the checks and balances within the Israeli state. Such changes will also alter the method of selecting Supreme Court justices, granting politicians more influence in appointing judges. Currently, the independent panel for selecting judges needs an agreement between politicians and judges. However, the new proposal would provide the government with greater control in the selection process.
Furthermore, ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties in the coalition want to pass a law that exempts their community from mandatory military recruitment, which they fear, may be nullified by the court if its powers are not restricted due to government control.
Critics Discuss Deeper Reasons Behind New Laws
Many are unable to agree that judicial appointments should be under the control of a Knesset which is heavily dominated by Netanyahu. Critics have been calling out Netanyahu for enforcing dictatorship and accusing him of ill intentions. Some reckon that he just wants to take advantage of these reforms to either freeze or cancel his ongoing criminal trial involving alleged bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Others argue that it would push Israel towards a system like Hungary and Poland, where the leader wields control over all major levers of power.
Critics also contend that Netanyahu and his nationalist associates want to weaken the Supreme Court to establish more illegal settlements on land sought by the Palestinians for their state. The Israeli government has been continuing the pre-1948 efforts of the Zionist movement, despite their illegality under international laws. According to reports, around 600,000-750,000, Israelis residing in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestinians complain that the move is yet another set of discriminatory laws against them by the Israeli government. Last week, Israel enacted a new law that makes it easier for authorities to revoke the citizenship and residency of Palestinians in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem. Additionally, Netanyahu’s new far-right government has intensified deadly raids in Palestinian territories since coming back to power in December 2022 after a short hiatus. His return has seen the deaths of at least 50 Palestinians, including 11 children, till now.