Controversial Supreme Court Reforms in Israel Ignite Fierce Protests and Economic Turmoil

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows Justice Minister Yariv Levin his phone as lawmakers gather at the Knesset plenum to vote on a bill that would limit some Supreme Court power, in Jerusalem July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Judicial Overhaul Bill Triggers Constitutional Crisis and Nationwide Outrage Across Israel

JERUSALEM – In a move that has intensified the constitutional crisis and sparked widespread outrage, Israel’s parliament ratified the first bill of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan. The controversial amendment, which curtails the Supreme Court’s authority to void government decisions deemed “unreasonable,” was passed by a 64-to-0 vote, with opposition lawmakers staging a dramatic protest by abandoning the session. The deepening crisis has led to clashes between protesters and police, a threat of a general strike by labour unions, and mounting concerns over the future of Israel’s democratic health.

The contentious reforms, first announced by the government in January, have ignited months of nationwide protests, signalling a significant divide in Israeli society. International allies have also voiced their apprehensions regarding the potential implications on Israel’s democratic values.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and lawmakers gather at the Knesset plenum to vote on a bill that would limit some Supreme Court power, in Jerusalem July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and lawmakers gather at the Knesset plenum to vote on a bill that would limit some Supreme Court power, in Jerusalem July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Within moments of the bill’s passage, a political watchdog group and the centrist opposition leader vowed to challenge the law in the Supreme Court, raising hopes of a provisional deal to resolve the crisis. However, the government’s determination to bring balance among the branches of government remains steadfast, with Justice Minister Yariv Levin defending the reforms as a necessary measure to restore powers taken from the government and the parliament.

Despite widespread dissent and calls for compromise, the Netanyahu coalition remains resolute in its stance against the Supreme Court’s perceived overreach, accusing it of excessive political intervention. Critics argue that the rushed parliamentary process and the curbing of the court’s powers could lead to potential abuses of authority, eroding one of the few effective checks on the executive branch in a country without a formal written constitution.

Israeli lawmakers react following a vote on a bill that would limit some Supreme Court power, in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Critics Fear Erosion of Democracy and Abuses of Power as Popular Protests Spread Across Israel”

The impact of the crisis is not limited to politics alone, as it spills over into the economy. Tel Aviv’s main share indices plunged more than 2.5% following the parliamentary vote, while the shekel’s value against the dollar continued to decline. Major companies and banks have joined the fray, with protests escalating and workers being allowed to demonstrate without fear of losing pay.

The protests have taken a volatile turn, with police resorting to using water cannons to disperse demonstrators opposing the reforms. Several protesters chained themselves to posts and blocked roads outside the parliament, leading to arrests and clashes with law enforcement. The tension has also spread into the military, with protest leaders warning that thousands of volunteer reservists may refuse to report for duty if the government proceeds with its plans.

Israeli security forces clash with a protester during a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his nationalist coalition government’s judicial overhaul, in Jerusalem July 24. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Critics and opposition leaders have labelled the government’s approach as a “disaster” that could potentially have far-reaching consequences for Israel’s democratic principles. They fear that the erosion of checks and balances could lead to unchecked executive power, undermining the foundations of a democratic system.

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As the nation remains deeply divided, the government’s determination to push forward with the reforms has raised concerns both domestically and internationally. The path ahead remains uncertain, with the risk of more protests, economic turmoil, and potential threats to Israel’s so-called “democratic standing” lingering on the horizon. – Reuters