Israel suspends controversial judicial reforms after widespread unrest

Mar 27, 2023 | Headlines, International News

Israel on Monday moved away from a proposed overhaul of the country’s judicial system that would have taken power away from the courts and given it the government.

The proposed changes have been put on hold for at least a couple of months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to avoid a “rupture among our people.”

Over the weekend, Israeli police faced off against tens of thousands of protestors as unrest continued to grow amid Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul. There was widespread anger after Netanyahu fired his defence minister Yoav Gallant, who had spoken out against the proposed reforms.

Some of the changes would check the power of the judicial branch, such as the courts, which according to Netanyahu’s government have amassed too much power and influence in Israel.

One of these changes would allow the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to have a final say in the country’s Supreme Court appointments by changing the selection committee to be a majority held by government members.

Opponents considered the judicial changes to be a centralization of power in the country, while others argued that it would create a better balance of power between government institutions.

Aurel Braun, Professor of International Relations and Political Science at the University of Toronto, told Humber News on Monday that it’s not so simple, and that both sides are lacking understanding and context in the current situation.

“A modern democracy is a system of checks and balances, which means that no one has all the power,” he said.

“Everyone has some power in the visit, checking each other to limit power in order to protect rights,” he said.

“A judiciary, a Supreme Court, has a very important function of judicial review. This happens in all democracies. And that balances the power that the legislature and the executive has.”

Braun said that in Israel the need for judicial reform is long overdue, and that the courts have too much sway in the power balance.

“If any one of the three branches has too much power, it creates a problem,” he said.

“The Israeli Supreme Court has too much power. We select judges in Canada through our Governor General and the Orders in Council process. That is, the Prime Minister proposes it, and it’s approved by the cabinet,”he said.

“In Israel, that is not the case. They will succeed themselves. The old judges have a huge amount of say in who’s going to succeed them.”

Braun also said that the move by the current Israeli government presents a problem since Netanyahu himself is facing allegations of corruption that are before the courts.

“Benjamin Netanyahu carries a lot of baggage, he has been indicted on a number of charges. There is that problem that with somebody like that, as prime minister, you are going to have suspicion that he is doing this just to protect his own interests,” he said.

“Netanyahu and his coalition are the wrong messengers,” Braun said.

“I wish that the suggestion for reform would have come from the previous government, which was liberal left, because they should have been intent on reforming the process,” he said.

Democracy is a constantly changing and constantly embattled system, and it must be proactive to guard against any branch gaining too much power at any given time, Braun said.

“Democracies are imperfect, democracies can be volatile,” said Braun. “But a democracy that survives all these conflicts is a democracy that can take a step back, and that democracy offers a lot of hope.”