A Likud Knesset member has proposed a change in the law which would restrict petitions to Israel’s High Court aimed at overturning legislative decisions, The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday.
Unlike the American system where an issue must make its way as an actual case slowly through the appeals courts before reaching the Supreme Court, in Israel, citizens can appeal directly to the High Court for judicial review of a law immediately after being passed by the Knesset.
Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch wants to stop sore-loser MKs from going to the Court every time they lose a vote in the plenum.
“The situation in which MKs and parties who lost votes in the Knesset turn to the High Court as a way to circumvent the Knesset shows a total disrespect for legitimate democratic decisions and the Knesset’s independence,” and interfere with the separation of powers, he said.
Kirsch cited the recent High Court decision striking down the government’s deal with the natural gas companies as an example, where opposition MKs, along with NGOs, sought and got a ruling that a key provision was unconstitutional. The government was forced to go back to the companies and work out a revised version.
It was in that case that former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis commented that the phenomenon of MK’s petitioning the court is “certainly disconcerting,” and that such petitions can come at the expense of public debate and harm the Knesset’s standing.
The bill Kirsch has in mind would not apply to petitions by MKs relating to personal matters, nor would it apply to cabinet decisions.
The idea drew immediate fire from the opposition, which view it as an existential threat to democracy.
Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog denounced it as “part of a planned and organized campaign to move to a pseudo-monarchic system,” and accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of “putting a gun to the head of law enforcement and the judiciary.”
Former justice minister MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp) said the bill is “part of the extreme Right’s attempt to take over democracy, the courts and everything good.”
Meretz MK Michal Rosin said Kirsch is making a populist attempt to “dismember” democracy, limit the public’s representation and harm freedom of expression.
Kirsch, in turn, accused them of hypocrisy.
“Opposition members are talking about the death of democracy, while they trample the principles of separations of power and majority rule,” he stated. “Suddenly the ‘defenders of democracy’ are ignoring Justice Grunis. Stop these populist reactions…The bill doesn’t ban petitions [by MKs] against the government; rather, it stops petitions against decisions made by the Knesset, the sovereign body elected by the people.”
Prospects of passage for such legislation seem uncertain, given the formidable prestige of the High Court and objections to the bill even from within the coalition.
Kulanu faction chairman MK Roi Folkmann said that “the Knesset House Committee chairman has to realize that the Knesset is not the Likud central committee. Recent moves to harm the democratic basis of the state of Israel by weakening the courts and the Knesset will not succeed.”
Folkmann himself resorted to the Court a few weeks ago to prevent moving the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation outside of Yerushalayim, and the Kulanu MK defended it as a legitimate and democratic approach to issues.