All you need to know about the judicial amendments that set Israel on fire

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resumed a campaign to curtail some of the Supreme Court’s powers, as part of judicial changes that have sparked unprecedented protests across the country.

The Knesset is due to begin voting on the Supreme Court bill on Sunday, as protests intensify and attempts to broker a compromise continue.

The Netanyahu government put forward the judicial amendment plan in January, shortly after being sworn in. The proposed amendments included imposing some restrictions on Supreme Court decisions and giving the government decisive powers in appointing judges.

But with Israel’s Western allies increasingly concerned, unrest deepened and the shekel devalued, Netanyahu suspended efforts in late March to allow talks with opposition parties.

Three months later, Netanyahu returned to present the legislation, from which he removed provisions that were proposed at the beginning and kept other provisions.

What is the new “reasonableness argument” bill?

The matter is related to an amendment that would limit the ability of the Supreme Court to annul decisions of the government and ministers if they are considered “unreasonable”.

Supporters say this would allow for more effective governance while leaving the court with plenty of room for judicial oversight. Critics say the amendments will open the door to corruption and abuse of power.

What is the government’s problem with the judiciary?

Many in the ruling coalition see the Supreme Court as left-leaning, elitist and too politically intrusive, often prioritizing minority rights over national interests and wielding power they say elected officials should.

Why are so many Israelis protesting?

Protesters believe democracy is under threat, and many fear that Netanyahu and the hard-right government will curtail the independence of the judiciary, with dire diplomatic and economic consequences. Netanyahu will plead not guilty in a long-running corruption case.

Opinion polls showed that the amendments are not supported by most Israelis who are mainly concerned about the high cost of living and security issues.

Why are the proposed amendments so worrisome?

The foundations of Israeli democracy are relatively fragile. The country does not have a constitution, and the parliament (the Knesset) is unicameral in which the government controls a majority of 64 seats against 56 for the opposition.

The office of the president is largely ceremonial, and thus the Supreme Court is considered the bulwark of democracy that protects civil rights and the rule of law. The United States urged Netanyahu to seek broad agreement on the judicial amendments and preserve the independence of the judiciary.

Are there other changes planned?

That is not clear yet, and Netanyahu says he wants changes in the way judges are chosen, but not necessarily those included in another draft bill awaiting final Knesset review.

Proposals have been raised to include amendments to the positions of legal advisers, and opposition lawmakers say that Netanyahu’s coalition is trying to pass small amendments that gradually restrict the independence of the judiciary.

But the ruling coalition says it wants to reform the judicial system in a responsible manner.

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