Fresh Supreme Court bill could be launched on Wednesday, Israeli minister says

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Work on a fresh bill that sets boundaries for Israel’s Supreme Court to rule against the government could begin in parliament as early as Wednesday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he would advance his government’s contested judicial overhaul this week after compromise talks with the political opposition were suspended by his rivals.

Netanyahu met with the heads of his nationalist-religious coalition government on Monday, including Smotrich, to discuss what they see as justice reforms that will balance out branches of government and end perceived court overreach.

After the meeting, Smotrich said that he instructed the head of parliament’s law committee to start work as soon as Wednesday on a fresh bill that will clearly define “Supreme Court authority to intervene in government and ministers’ decisions.”

In televised remarks Smotrich echoed Netanyahu, saying the coalition will advance changes to the judiciary slowly and responsibly. Their government’s January-March judicial drive had plunged Israel into one of its worst political crises in years.

Unveiled soon after Netanyahu’s return to office, the sweeping judicial changes sought to curb Supreme Court powers and give the government more control over appointments to the bench in what opponents called a fatal blow to democracy.

The overhaul plan set off unprecedented protests, with critics of Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges he denies – accusing him of trying to curb judicial independence.

With Israel’s economy bruised and Western allies voicing concerns for its democracy, Netanyahu froze the drive in March for compromise talks, which opposition leaders suspended last week pending the formation of a key panel for selecting judges.

Nonetheless, coalition lawmakers have indicated that the new bill would be a far softer version of previous government proposals that had sought to limit Supreme Court power to rule against the executive almost completely.

But any unilateral moves by the government to change the justice system would wreak havoc on Israel, opposition leaders said on Monday.

“Our democracy is in danger,” said Opposition Head Yair Lapid.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Susan Fenton)