The new law limiting the powers of the judiciary is irreversible, but the path forward is uncertain.
A law passed by Israel’s parliament on Monday that would overhaul the judiciary and limit its powers sent the country into uncharted territory, amid widespread protests from the opposition.
The new legislation, known as the “reasonableness bill”, removes the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn government decisions deemed “unreasonable”.
The far-right government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says the judges have become too powerful and should be reined in, while the opposition says the government seeks to weaken the judiciary and prevent it from maintaining checks on the government.
The legal ramifications of the legislation – which is part of a wider judicial overhaul being pushed by the government – are likely to remain unclear in the coming weeks.
Here’s what we know so far:
Will the new bill be reinstated?
The new law will not change, but the path forward is uncertain. Israel has never faced a similar challenge from a government before.
Monday’s bill was enacted as an amendment to one of Israel’s Basic Laws, which constitutes the country’s constitutional framework.
Up to now, the Supreme Court has never repealed any Basic Laws, only regular laws that violated the Basic Laws. But it has the power to do so, and that power will be lost under the new “reasonableness” bill.
At least three civil society organizations filed a petition to the Supreme Court asking to disqualify the new law because it is against the Basic Laws of the country. Opposition leader Yair Lapid also said he will file a petition in the coming days.
Therefore, the opposition is now seeking to use the very tool that Monday’s bill was intended to destroy – putting the Supreme Court in an awkward position.
One legal argument the supreme court could use to disqualify the legislation is that it violates Israel’s “core values,” arguing that the change is undemocratic. But it is unclear whether the bill constitutes a sufficiently authoritarian turn to justify the decision.
What will the opposition do?
Divisions in Israel are likely to widen with the passage of the bill on Monday. The country faced popular unrest, labor strikes and a mutiny on the part of some in the military.
A growing number of military reservists have warned they will no longer report for duty if the government goes ahead with its plan, putting Israel’s war readiness at risk.
Doctors in Israel began a 24-hour strike and the Chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Zion Hagay, said that doctors who are angry with the law intend to move abroad.
The government threatened disciplinary action against the strikers. Local media reported that the government is seeking an injunction forcing doctors to return to work.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from the occupied West Bank, says the medical union needs to get clearance from the labor court to ensure that health care workers are not considered to be neglecting their duties.
A labor court eventually ordered striking medical providers to return to work, but many appointments were canceled for the day.
What else is the government planning?
The bill on Monday was passed as part of the government’s broader plan to overhaul the judiciary.
Additional plans for reform include major changes to the Basic Law to change the balance of power between the Knesset and the High Court of Justice, dividing the role of the attorney general and limiting the ability to petition against government actions.
Carmiel Arbit, a nonresident senior fellow for the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs, said Israelis hope the reforms will continue apace.
“As the far-right coalition that has historically governed Israel continues what many have called a ‘straightforward approach’ to reform — legislating to dismantle the judiciary, piece by piece — Israel’s democratic institutions are positioned to be severely damaged,” Arbit said.
“In a country that lacks a constitution, the Supreme Court is a critical pillar, preventing the passage and implementation of laws that would allow Israel’s ultra-religious parties to oppress the largely secular population,” the analyst added. “The result is a crisis.”
Netanyahu said the Knesset’s upcoming summer recess until mid-October would be an opportunity to negotiate more changes to the judiciary, and he blamed the opposition for the failure to reach a compromise on the recently passed bill.
On Monday he sought to calm the opposition, saying he hoped to reach consensus on any further legislation by November.