Top Judge Blasts ‘Unprecedented Assault’ on Judiciary

Finance Minister and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon addresses a faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

While coalition parties moved forward uncertainly on the High Court override bill, Court president Esther Hayut on Monday unlimbered the heavy artillery with a full-throated denunciation.

“The judicial branch is under a brutal and unprecedented attack that poses a realistic threat to its power and independence,” Hayut said at a swearing-in ceremony for new judges attended by President Reuven Rivlin and a co-author of the bill, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

“The significance of the legislation is simple — the elimination of the constitutional protection of human rights that is anchored in Israel by Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and freedom to enact laws that violate those rights without the court being able to provide relief to the victims.”

“Those who hold that the supercession law ‘supercedes’ the court are mistaken,” Hayut continued. “In fact, it supercedes the human rights of every segment of Israeli society, and gives legitimacy to the Knesset, with the support of the government, to enact laws that violate human rights with impunity.”

Shaked dismissed the attack as judicial fear-mongering.

“Every week a voice is heard proclaiming that Israeli democracy is marching toward its end,” she said.

“Sometimes because of a government process, and sometimes because of some legislation. Inflation in announcements of the death of democracy has become absurd, especially as a tool for political bullying. I regret to disappoint the eulogists, but go outside and take a look — Israeli democracy is alive and breathing and kicking and stronger than any of its critics and eulogizers,” Shaked said.

A comment from Zionist Camp MK Nachman Shai in support of Hayut presaged the battle to come over the bill once it reaches the plenum of the Knesset:

“This is a call to battle by the senior judicial authority in the State of Israel to save democracy. The Supreme Court is aware of its limitations and has always been careful in canceling laws. The pile-on initiated by the Right against one of the symbols of Israeli democracy undermines the Jewish and democratic foundations of the State of Israel.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that premature advance of legislation to enable the Knesset to override the High Court on the constitutionality of laws would destroy the bill’s chances. Ministers on Sunday approved the bill, which would give a 61-MK majority the ability to overturn Court decisions, a formula which some—including Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit—feel is going too far.

“At the moment Jewish Home is pushing the override clause into the garbage can,” he tells members of his Likud faction on Monday, according to leaks.

Jewish Home countered in a statement that “the override clause has been dragged out for three years under all sorts of pretexts.”

But in the same breath the party appeared to make room for compromise on the 61 majority clause:

“We announce in advance that any override bill that receives the endorsement of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Finance Minister Kahlon and the rest of the coalition parties will also be acceptable to the Jewish Home faction.”

Kahlon on Sunday, sounding much like Hayut, called the bill an “attack on the rule of law” and said he would vote against it in the Knneset.

The center-right politician has supported a narrower bill, which would give the Knesset override power only to prevent the Court from blocking measures to deport illegal African migrants.

“I know exactly how a right-wing, nationalist public figure should behave — but with statesmanship,” he told the Kulanu party on Monday, apparently fending off a suggestion that he is veering to the political left.

“We need to stop the spin,” he said. “We are in favor or removing the infiltrators from the country. I have budgeted tens of thousands of shekels in the past year to deal with the problem of the infiltrators.”

But Kahlon asserted that the current version of the bill will not solve the problem.

“This bill will do nothing, and they know it,” he said of Jewish Home, though he didn’t explain why.

“I have said that we need to sit together to reach an agreement. But not this way. We will solve the problem of the infiltrators, not through underhandedness and not by damaging Israel.”

The bill appeared to be stalled as of Monday due to Kahlon’s opposition to it in its present form.