Global Agenda Non-Military Security

Netanyahu delays controversial judicial reform after mass protests

Martin Gvoth

In response to the persistent and widespread demonstrations in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has paused his controversial judicial reform plan. The reform would fundamentally undermine the independence of the Israeli judiciary and damage the level of democracy in the country.

The impact of the protests in Israel has been multifaceted, causing disruptions to daily life and posing a potentially significant threat to national security. A significant part of the Israeli population and the army (IDF) took part in the protests. Of particular concern was the elite squadron of the Israeli Air Force, which refused to participate in training. In addition, the increased number of military reservists, who form the backbone of the IDF, rejected to report for duty as a sign of protest. Critical voices have been heard even from the highest political places – both Israeli President Herzog and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant have spoken out against the reforms, with Netanyahu even sacking the latter after his criticism of the reforms.

In sum, judicial reform would severely undermine the country’s democratic foundations by weakening the judicial system, which has historically kept a check on the government’s use of power. More precisely, under the proposed reform, the authority of the Supreme Court to assess or nullify legislation could be diminished, as it could be overridden by a  single-vote majority (61 out of 120 MPs) in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). The governing administration would further wield significant influence over the appointment of judges, even those in the Supreme Court, by augmenting its presence on the committee responsible for the selection process. 

Finally, Ministers would not be required to obey the advice from legal advisers, which in the 

current state is required by law. By compromising the judiciary’s independence and the power wielded by this branch, the reform would significantly weaken the Israeli democratic architecture. Having free and fair elections, Israel is considered the most democratic system in the Middle East.

The reasons for the reform can be traced back to 2019. At the time, the Israeli attorney general recommended indicting Benjamin Netanyahu with fraud, bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The most severe case involved the suspicion of pushing through regulation which would substantially benefit Israel’s Bezeq telecom company, which would in return, provide favourable coverage of Netanyahu. The then-ruling prime minister was indicted in October 2019 and, after an unsuccessful bid for immunity, underwent trial in 2020. The trial was delayed several times for various reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the indictment, Netanyahu was not legally obliged to step down from the post of Prime Minister unless convicted. Following several elections, unsuccessful coalition-building efforts, and the dissolving of a short-lasting Bennett-Lapid government, Netanyahu managed to form what seems to be a working far-right coalition. The government is currently composed of nationalist and ultra-orthodox Jewish parties and includes figures such as Itamar Ben Gvir, an extremist settler who became Minister of National Security.

Netanyahu’s shift towards extremism was arguably largely driven by his desire for a comfortable majority in the government that could grant him a lifeline from conviction. Meanwhile, the Israeli right-wing parties, which have historically viewed the judiciary as left-leaning and a hindrance to the right-wing legislative goals, are currently leveraging this alliance to advance its agenda of weakening the judiciary. Despite the halt to the proposed reform, Ben Gvir’s threat to quit the coalition if the legislation is not passed resulted in a trade-off for Gvir’s national guard project. The guard will comprise of 1800 members who will receive training from the IDF and Israeli Border police, with a budget of one billion shekels, equivalent to approximately €250 million. This would create a para-military group under the control of Ben Gvir, a far-right nationalist, potentially used for various missions complementing his policies.

Netanyahu’s increasing attempts to avoid trial could put Israel on a track towards the governance models of the other Middle Eastern countries. However, as of now, Israeli democracy has proven its resilience, considering the mass protests involving a significant part of the population, army reservists, and other important Israeli political actors.

Photo credit: Lizzy Shaanan _Wikipedia Commons

The Latest

Cybersecurity and the Defense Industry Should Become Priorities After NATO’s 2024 Summit

NATO’s 2024 summit is over and as always, it has brought forward multiple topics. Especially given the current turbulent geopolitical as well as geoeconomic global environment, one could arguably focus…

Usage of Drones in the War in Ukraine

Drones, or UAVs, were often considered weapons of the future. Before the two world wars in the 20th century, the Austrian forces used the predecessors of drones when the exploding…

Russian hackers have attacked several EU countries. Slovakia was also a victim

Russian hackers known as APT28 carried out a massive cyber-attack against multiple European countries with the aim of targeting political objectives and obtaining critical information. The main victims were the…