Justice Minister Yariv Levin introduces proposals that call for sweeping changes aimed at curbing powers of judiciary, including rulings outlawing Israeli outposts on private Palestinian land in occupied West Bank.

Levin's proposed changes also include eliminating the test of
Levin's proposed changes also include eliminating the test of "reasonability" when reviewing government decisions. (AP Archive)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's justice minister has unveiled the new government's long-promised overhaul of the judicial system that aims to weaken the country's Supreme Court.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a confidant of Netanyahu's and longtime critic of the Supreme Court, presented his plan on Wednesday, a day before the justices are to debate a controversial new law passed by the government allowing a politician convicted of tax offences to serve as a Cabinet minister.

"The time has come to act," Levin said.

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 proposals call for a series of sweeping changes aimed at curbing the powers of the judiciary, including by allowing lawmakers to pass laws that the high court has struck down and effectively deemed unconstitutional.

Levin laid out a law that would empower the country's 120-seat parliament, or Knesset, to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes.

Levin also proposed that politicians play a greater role in the appointment of Supreme Court judges and that ministers appoint their own legal advisers instead of using independent professionals.

Levin argued that the public's faith in the judicial system has plummeted to a historic low, and said he plans to restore power to elected officials that now lies in the hands of what he and his supporters consider to be overly interventionist judges.

"These reforms will strengthen the judicial system and restore public faith in it," Levin said in a televised statement. 

"We go to the polls and vote, choose, but time after time, people who we didn’t elect decide for us," he said. "That's not democracy."

Members of Netanyahu's religious-nationalist coalition, which took office last week, have long accused the court of overreach and the bench of being unrepresentative of the public.

'Unilateral coup'

The planned overhaul has already drawn fierce criticism from Israel’s attorney general and the Israeli opposition, though it is unclear whether they will be able to prevent the far-right government from racing forward.

Yair Lapid, former prime minister and head of the opposition, said he will fight the changes "in every possible way" and vowed to cancel them if he returns to power.

"Those who carry out a unilateral coup in Israel need to know that we are not obligated to it in any way whatsoever," he said.

If Levin's proposed "override" law is passed, Netanyahu's ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist allies have said they hope to scrap Supreme Court rulings outlawing Israeli outposts on private Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.

They would also seek to allow for the protracted detention of African asylum-seekers and make official the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox from the country's mandatory military service.

In Israel, Supreme Court judges are appointed and dismissed by a committee made up of professionals, lawmakers and some justices. Levin wants to give lawmakers a majority in the committee, with most coming from the right-wing and religiously conservative ruling coalition.

Recent opinion polls by the Israel Democracy Institute found a majority of respondents believe the Supreme Court should have the power to strike down laws that conflict with Israel's Basic Laws, which serve as a sort of constitution.

Netanyahu's campaign against justice system

In a speech on Wednesday ahead of Levin's announcement, Netanyahu appeared to back his justice minister by vowing to "implement reforms that will ensure the proper balance between the three branches of government."

Since being indicted on corruption charges, Netanyahu has campaigned against the justice system.

He denies all charges, saying he is the victim of a witch hunt orchestrated by hostile media, police and prosecutors. 

Levin's proposed changes also include eliminating the test of "reasonability" when reviewing government decisions.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court is due to hear appeals against the appointment of ultra-Orthodox Jewish politician Aryeh Deri as cabinet minister despite his having been convicted of tax fraud.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies