Israel has seen huge protests after its parliament passed a controversial law that will diminish the power of the Supreme Court. Why has it caused so much unrest?
Over the past few days people have come out onto the streets after Israel’s parliament voted to reduce the influence of the country’s Supreme Court – a key check on the power of the prime minister and parliament, which only has one legislative chamber.
But far-right parties think the courts have a liberal bias and too much influence.
The amendment passed on Monday will alter its ability to rule on the “reasonableness” of legislative changes by parliament. In the past, if the court thought that new bills went against the rights and freedoms enshrined in Israel’s laws, they could overrule parliament. That power has now been removed.
This law change was supported by the country’s far-right, ultra-conservative political wing and had the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu relies heavily on a coalition of those parties to shore up his position after they helped to get him re-elected last year. Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s opposition, said in a press conference after the vote that Netanyahu is a “prisoner” and a “puppet” of the far-right.
But Justice minister Yariv Levin believes the change will strengthen Israeli democracy.
“We go to the polls, we vote, we elect and people who we didn’t elect take decisions for us. Many look to our judicial system and find that their voice isn’t being heard. That is not democracy,” he said.
With the court’s strength diminished, opposition leaders and protesters fear that Israel’s democracy is under threat – and that the country’s religious right will usher in policies that will undermine the rights and freedoms of its citizens.
Other parts of a broader judicial reform package, introduced by justice minister Yariv Levin in January 2023, would give parliament greater control over the selection of Supreme Court judges. Under the current government, that would mean more conservative appointments.
Now Israel’s liberal opposition fears that the country’s religious right will move ahead with policies that will erode LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, undermine the status of minority groups and expand settlements on Palestinian lands in the West Bank.
Today’s episode was written and mixed by Ella Hill.