May 6, 2018 / 12:50 PM / 21 days ago

Israeli legislation reining in Supreme Court wins preliminary approval

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli right-wing ministers on Sunday moved against a Supreme Court they view as too liberal, granting preliminary approval to a bill that would limit its ability to quash laws deemed unconstitutional.

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, May 6, 2018. Jim Hollander/Pool via Reuters

Under the proposal ratified by the ministerial committee for legislation, parliament could circumvent a court decision to strike down a law by passing it again with the support of 61 of the legislature’s 120 members.

But opposition from a centrist group in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist coalition could sink the legislation once it reaches parliament for further ratification.

Critics have condemned the proposal as an attempt by the government to promote a right-wing agenda by weakening the rule of law and limiting the powers of the country’s top judicial body.

Proponents of the legislation have accused the Supreme Court of intervening too frequently to quash laws passed by a democratically elected parliament.

“This is a great day for Israeli democracy. We will strengthen the government’s authority and increase the public’s faith in the court,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the ultranationalist Jewish Home party wrote on Twitter, announcing the committee’s approval.

But Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads another coalition partner, Kulanu, said in a statement condemning the move that his centrist party “will not allow extremists to set Israel’s agenda”. Kahlon was not present for the committee vote.

Comprised of 15 judges, the Supreme Court is widely seen in Israel as a liberal bastion, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has been pushing for a bench more representative of conservative Israelis.

Its members are appointed by a selection committee that includes Shaked, three Supreme Court justices and representatives of the Bar Association.

In recent years, the court has angered the right-wing by striking down a law that allowed indefinite detention of African migrants who entered the country illegally and cancelling legislation exempting Jewish religious seminary students from military service.

The court also has been a thorn in the side of Israel’s settlement movement in the occupied West Bank, hearing petitions that have led to the demolition of outposts and homes built without government sanction on land Palestinians seek for a state.

Amit Segal, a political analyst for Israel’s Channel Two television, said Kahlon’s opposition meant that “the law is headed for a state funeral” in parliament.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, May 6, 2018. Jim Hollander/Pool via Reuters

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell

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