Update on Proposed Judicial Reforms

The proposed judicial reforms continue to make headlines in Israel, with developments occurring on an almost daily basis.

Yesterday, Jewish Federations sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (original Hebrew version here) expressing our concerns over aspects of the reforms and urging the two sides to negotiate a compromise, based on the suggestions of President Isaac Herzog. News of our letter was widely reported in the Israeli press, and shortly after the letter was delivered, Prime Minister Netanyahu openly called for dialogue (see here) and Opposition Leader Lapid responded in a letter to Federations, stating that he agreed with our principles. 

We were extremely encouraged by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement, and we strongly believe that the two sides should work to immediately overcome the very small differences that remain in order to begin negotiations immediately.  Our board chair, Julie Platt, responded with a video statement that was released publicly and widely circulated.

Meanwhile today, additional aspects of the government’s proposed judicial reforms passed another stage on the road to becoming law, and were approved in a First Reading in the Knesset Plenum. The most significant was a bill that only allows the Supreme Court to strike down laws that violate Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws through a unanimous vote of all of the Court's members. In addition, the bill gives 61 or more members of Knesset the power to make laws "immune" to judicial review even if they contradict the country’s Basic Laws. See more here.

Also today, a number of other bills passed their First Reading, including an amendment that will allow Member of Knesset Aryeh Deri, the leader of the Shas party, to serve as a government minister even though he has been convicted of numerous crimes. In addition, a bill passed that will ban the public from bringing bread and other “hametz” products into Israeli hospitals over Passover. See further details here.

All of the votes for these bills were accompanied by loud and rowdy behavior both inside and outside the Knesset plenum with one side claiming that the Coalition was destroying democracy, while the other saying that the Opposition was ignoring the votes and wishes of the majority.

Meanwhile, in an unusual, and unconfirmed move, the Opposition is said to be considering a plan that would involve a mass-resignation by parliamentarians in protest against the proposed reforms, leaving only the 64 members of the Coalition in the Knesset (see more here). Media reports in Israel today have also speculated that President Herzog is in secret discussions with representatives of both sides of the current debate, and is quietly formulating a new, and more detailed compromise proposal (see additional details here).

As always, Jewish Federations are monitoring the situation very closely, and will continue to update. Please see our toolkit of resources here.