Israel's Supreme Court rejects controversial judicial reform, opening rift during wartime

 January 2, 2024

Israel's Supreme Court rejected the controversial judicial reforms passed by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opening up a bitter national controversy in the middle of the country's war with Hamas. 

The controversial reforms led to massive protests throughout Israel that fizzled out after October 7, when Hamas launched the deadliest attack on Israel in decades.

Israel shaken by Supreme Court ruling

After October 7, opposition leader Benny Gantz agreed with Netanyahu to form a wartime unity government. That unity is now in peril after the Supreme Court's move, Netanyahu's allies say.

“The Supreme Court judges’ decision to publish their ruling in the middle of a war is the opposite of the spirit of unity that we need in these days so our troops can succeed at the front,” Justice Minister Yariv Levin said.

In a divided 8-7 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the reforms - which would limit the court's own power - weakened Israel's democracy.

Yair Lapid, the parliamentary opposition leader, praised the court for "faithfully fulfilling its duty to protect the people of Israel.” But Gantz urged Israelis to set aside political disputes until the war is over.

"There are no winners and losers today. We have one mutual goal – to win the war," he said.  "After the war we will need to settle the relationship between the different branches of power through dialogue and broad consensus."

Judicial reform rocks Israel

The reforms have been widely condemned by liberals in and outside of Israel as an undemocratic power grab. But the reforms' right-wing supporters say they are needed to rein in a subversive, activist judiciary.

Prior to October 7, President Biden had pressured Netanyahu to abandon the "divisive" reforms as protests raged.

Some of Netanyahu's critics say the divisions caused by the reform left Israel vulnerable to attack.

With Israel now at war, Netanyahu has vowed to keep fighting until Hamas has been vanquished, despite pressure from Biden to pull back Israel's bombing in Gaza, where thousands have died in recent weeks.

Biden has warned that Israel will lose global support if it does not change course.

On the same day as the Supreme Court's move, the Israeli military announced it will begin recalling thousands of troops from Gaza as part of a shift to a longer, low-intensity phase of the war.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
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