Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with the heads of the High Court on Tuesday amid mounting friction over plans to rein in the activist Israeli judiciary.
Following the meeting with Court President Justice Esther Hayut and Vice President Hanan Meltzer, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying, “At the meeting, the participants noted the importance of substantive and respectful dialogue between the authorities.”
“The President and the Deputy emphasized the importance of preserving the independence of the judiciary, and the Prime Minister emphasized in his remarks the need for a proper balance between the authorities and the existence of such a dialogue.”
Legislation reportedly being formulated by Likud and its prospective coalition partners is aimed at granting immunity from prosecution to Netanyahu and giving the Knesset power to override the High Court’s authority to strike down legislation.
“It seems as if the prime minister and the candidates for the role of justice minister want to shatter and destroy the legal system,” Channel 13 quoted unnamed justices saying during private talks.
“The immunity bill alongside the override clause is unbelievable. We won’t hesitate to take harsh and extreme steps because history will judge us,” they said, according to the report. It also did not specify what the “extreme steps” might be.
A spokesperson for the courts told the network that if the comments were made, they represented the view only of the individual justices who made them.
“The agreed-upon stance of the judicial justice system will be given at the appropriate time and in the appropriate formula,” the spokesperson said.
Nevertheless, former High Court president Dorit Beinisch accused of seeking to destroy the legal system in order to protect himself from prosecution.
“Be careful before you try to destroy… an impressive system that was built over years,” she warned. “You don’t carry out reforms without substantive consideration and evaluation… The need to evade trial cannot drive this broad reform — it’s unacceptable,” warned Beinisch over Israel Radio last Thursday.
Netanyahu’s Likud party denied the prime minister was seeking “to destroy” the court.
“It is hard to believe that anyone takes seriously the idea the prime minister wants to destroy the Supreme Court,” the party was quoted saying in response.
“There is a huge difference between reasonable reforms to return the balance [between the legislative and judicial branches] and empty claims about an intention to destroy one of the three foundational authorities of democracy,” it stated.
Proponents of the reforms argue that the High Court has over the years overstepped its proper role, encroaching on the legitimate authority of elected officials in the Knesset to make law. The reforms, they say, are intended to correct an imbalance.