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Israel’s Supreme Court Faces Showdown on Judicial Constraints: Arguments Unfold

The Israeli administration has removed the court's ability to overturn ministerial decisions

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ISRAEL: Israel’s Supreme Court began hearing arguments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government proposal to limit the court’s authority, sparking a crisis that has divided the nation.

All 15 judges met to hear appeals from watchdog organizations challenging a judicial amendment imposed by Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition in July. The judicial reform has provoked months of demonstrations and has sparked a historic session.

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The Israeli administration has removed the court’s ability to overturn “unreasonable” government or ministerial decisions, aiming to prevent unelected judges from interfering in politics. 

Critics argue that the amendment eliminates a necessary check and balance in Israel’s political system. The government claims that its goal is to prevent unelected judges from engaging in political overreach. Concern over the effect of the court amendments on Israel’s democracy has been expressed by the United States and other Western allies.

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The Israeli public is deeply affected by the ongoing conflict between the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches, with court proceedings broadcast on television and radio.

Business and civil society organizations warn that judiciary changes could destroy the economy. Military officials claim thousands of protesting military reservists pose a threat to national security. The shekel fell 0.2% in early trade, reaching its lowest point in three years. This situation has fractured Israeli society, leading to weekly protests organized by hundreds of thousands of people.

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Justice Minister Yariv Levin criticized the Supreme Court session as a “mortal blow to democracy and the Knesset’s standing”.

According to the government, the Supreme Court lacks the authority to consider revisions to the Basic Law, which has quasi-constitutional significance in a country without a genuine constitution.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut asked a parliamentary legal adviser Yitzhak Bart, “Who should oversee reasonable conduct on the part of the government? Do you agree that there should be law – but not an adjudicator of the law?”

According to Bart, the court retains alternative avenues for intervening in government decisions.

In January, the coalition commenced its legal action. Since then, a lot of Israelis have been alarmed by the widespread demonstrations that have affected the military, as well as by fears of future conflicts with the Palestinians, Iran, and the heavily armed Hezbollah organisation in neighbouring Lebanon.

According to Netanyahu, some of the initial ideas have been dropped. But his attempts to work out compromises with the overhaul’s opponents have so far been ineffective, raising concerns that Israel’s greatest political crisis in years would worsen.

Analysts stated that there was still time for both parties to come to an agreement on adjustments because there are two more appeals set for this month and the court decision might come as late as January.

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