Published 01/15/2023 11:32 | Edited 1/17/2023 1:25 PM
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government plans to move forward with a proposal to change the country’s judicial system, despite fierce criticism from senior legal officials. Netanyahu’s comments on Sunday came after opponents of the plan staged nationwide protests on Saturday.
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has made legal changes the centerpiece of his new government’s agenda and growing opposition to them is presenting an early challenge for the Israeli leader.
Protesters say the reform will undermine judicial independence, foster corruption, undermine minority rights and deprive Israel’s courts of the credibility that helps avoid prosecutions of war crimes abroad.
The proposed changes provoked an outcry from the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who in rare public criticism called the proposed changes a “rampant attack on the justice system”.
The country’s attorney general also spoke out against the plan, as did many of her predecessors.
Despite the opposition, Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting that voters had voted in November’s elections in support of his campaign pledge to overhaul the justice system.
There have been calls in the past to reform Israel’s justice system, which since the 1990s has been seen by critics as being too interventionist in the law-making process.
But the radical changes sought by Netanyahu’s justice minister have raised alarm among opponents who see them as a death knell for Israel’s system of checks and balances and, in turn, its democracy.
Netanyahu and his allies see the changes as a way to ease the governance process and recalibrate what they say is an imbalance between the country’s executive and judicial branches.
Critics say the changes could help Netanyahu avoid conviction in his corruption trial or make the trial disappear altogether. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
Justice against reactionary government
Netanyahu leads a government of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties that in the past have seen their agendas thwarted by Supreme Court rulings or unfavorable advice from government legal advisers.
This led them to ensure that legal changes were a priority during negotiations to form the government. Netanyahu, eager to return to power under the shadow of his corruption trial, seemed inclined to be generous with his negotiating partners.
Among those concessions was a promise to make Avi Maoz, head of a small ultranationalist religious party that has repeatedly spewed anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, responsible for certain educational programs. Cabinet approved the pledge on Sunday, despite protests from Israeli mayors and parents when it was first discussed.
With information from Aljazira