Former Israeli top legal officials spoke out Thursday against sweeping reforms to the country’s justice system planned by the new Benjamin Netanyahu government, lending their voices to a growing outcry against the proposed overhaul.
Seven former attorneys general who have served in the post throughout the last five decades — including two appointed by Netanyahu, whose justice minister is spearheading the reforms — signed a letter of protest, along with four other former senior legal officials. The letter denounced the proposed changes, saying they are destructive to the country’s legal system.
“We call on the government to withdraw the proposed plan and prevent serious harm to the justice system and the rule of law,” the letter said.
The former officials said the reforms would turn the Supreme Court, often the last recourse for Israelis and Palestinians seeking to challenge what they see as discriminatory policies, into a “pseudo-political body that would be suspected of bending the law in favor of the government.”
Israel’s new government has made overhauling the country’s legal system a centerpiece of its agenda. It wants to weaken the Supreme Court, allowing lawmakers to pass laws the court has struck down with a simple majority in parliament. Other reforms include politicizing the appointment of judges, reducing the independence of government legal advisors or ignoring their counsel.
The reforms could help Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, evade conviction, or even make his trial disappear entirely. Since being indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has railed publicly against the justice system, calling it biased against him. He says the legal reforms will be carried out responsibly.
The reforms have prompted an uproar over what critics say is a major threat to the country’s democratic fundamentals. The country’s current attorney general has already fiercely criticized the reforms and a protest against them last week drew thousands. Alan Dershowitz, a staunch Israel defender, has also come out against the plan, saying that were he in Israel, he would be joining the demonstrations.
Critics accuse the government of declaring war against the legal system, saying the plan will upend Israel’s system of checks and balances and undermine its democratic institutions by giving absolute power to the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history. The government says the reforms are a necessary step to streamline governance and correct an imbalance that has granted the legal system too much sway.
Supporters of Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party held a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv home of former Supreme Court chief justice Aharon Barak after the ex-top litigator railed the proposed reforms, chanting “you’re corrupt” and “you head a criminal organization.”
In response, a counter-protest was held outside Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s home in Modi’in, with demonstrators evoking the Nazis, a move that raised ire from more hard-line members of the government.
First published: 11:37, 01.12.23