Knesset committee approves override power over High Court
Despite appeals by PM Netanyahu to postpone vote on the controversial legislation that would allow Knesset to pass laws already struck down by the High Court, 11 of the 12-member Ministerial Committee for Legislation ram bill through, while Kahlon states intention to block 'extreme' move.
The bill proposal, which would constitute and amendment to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, will be brought to a vote at the Knesset likely on Wednesday.
The bill received the support of eleven committee members, among them Housing and Construction Minister Minister Yoav Galant, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appeals for the discussion to be held next week.
The override power initiative, also known as a notwithstanding clause, became a top priority for nationalist lawmakers following uncertainty over the fate of illegal African migrants in the aftermath of a series of failed deals for their deportation.
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.
Shortly after the committee’s vote, Kahlon, who was at the time taking a tour of the Gaza region in south Israel, announced his intention to block the bill from advancing.
“The passage of the bill in the Ministerial Committee of Legislation is a violation of the coalition agreements and a blow to law enforcement,” Kahlon said.
“The Kulanu faction will continue to struggle against the override powers clause and we will fight. We will not allow extreme elements to lead the daily agenda in the State of Israel,” the minister promised.
While discussions were necessary on striking a balance in the relationship between the courts and the Knesset, Kahlon added that the latest move in the committee was extreme.
“We said in the last few weeks that we are prepared to hold broad discussions on the arrangement and relationship between the court and the Knesset. This is a move that has be undertaken after years of the issue not being dealt with, but not in an extreme and unilateral way as happened today.”
Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nazri said that while the bill was not unconstitutional, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was still opposed to it.
“The position of the attorney general is that all the proposals should be opposed. We are not saying it isn't constitutional, because it is an amendment to the Basic Laws, but we are opposed to it. The Basic Law on Legislation addresses all complexities of relations between the authorities,” Nazri said.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) was absent from the discussion in which participants sought to clarify whether he could impose a veto on the bill.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) hailed the committee’s decision and said that it marked the government’s “beginning of the building of a separation wall between the three branches” of government.
“The bypass clause will return the public confidence in the High Court of Justice and will restore the original functions of the branches: the Knesset legislates, the governments implements and the court interprets,” a joint statement said.
“One branch cannot intervene in the affairs of the other. It should be remembered that the Knesset, as a representative of the nation, is the sovereign as in any civilized democracy," it added.
During the committee discussion, Bennett and Shaked asked that a vote be removed from the day’s agenda on an initiative led by MKs Motti Yogev and Nissan Slomiansky, both from the Bayit Yehudi party, which sought to strip the HCJ of any authority to strike down laws.
Education Minister Bennett, who has been at the forefront of the override powers bill’s promotion, said that, “Raz is right in saying that the Basic Law: Legislation is an important law. The problem is that Kahlon has a veto over the Basic Law: Legislation and not on the override powers.”
Last week, Netanyahu met with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut for two hours to discuss the legislation.
According to the Prime Minister's Office "the different positions were heard, and there was an in-depth and serious discussion."
Earlier, Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay warned that passing legislation would seriously harm Israeli democracy, saying Netanyahu is trying "to turn us into a democracy like Turkey."
"The only thing Netanyahu is busy doing is perpetuating his rule," Gabbay told Ynet in an interview. "He wants to get reelected, which is legitimate. But the question is how much he is willing to change his country to make that happen. He's willing to do everything for it to happen."
Reuters contributed to this report.