Israel takes first major step in Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul


Israel’s parliament on Monday approved the first major law in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plan to overhaul the country’s justice system, triggering a new burst of mass protests and drawing accusations that he was pushing the country towards authoritarian rule.
The vote, passed unanimously by Netanyahu’s ruling coalition after the opposition stormed out of the hall, deepened the fissures that have tested the delicate social ties that bind the country, rattled the cohesion of its powerful military and repeatedly drew concern from Israel’s closest ally, the United States. It came just hours following Netanyahu’s release from a hospital.
As Netanyahu’s allies celebrated their victory and vowed to press ahead with more changes, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and opponents said they would challenge the new law in the Supreme Court.
The overhaul calls for sweeping changes aimed at curbing the powers of the judiciary, from limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to challenge parliamentary decisions to changing the way judges are selected.
Netanyahu and his allies say the changes strengthen democracy by limiting the authority of unelected judges and giving elected officials more powers over decision-making. But protesters see the overhaul as a power grab fuelled by personal and political grievances of Netanyahu — who is on trial for corruption charges — and his partners. His allies, who include ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties, have called for increased West Bank settlement construction, annexation of the occupied territory, perpetuating military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men, and limiting the rights of LGBTQ+ people and Palestinians.
The White House, which has repeatedly urged Netanyahu to pause his overhaul plan until he has a broad consensus, expressed regret. “It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority,” it said.
Under the Israeli system, the prime minister governs through a majority coalition in parliament — in effect giving him control over the executive and legislative branches of government.