Supporters of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government rally to support the government's judicial overhaul on July 23, in Tel Aviv. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)


Israeli parliament approves divisive legal reforms amid warnings of ‘civil war’


The Israeli Parliament has passed a divisive law limiting the power of the country’s Supreme Court.

The legal reform went through on a vote of 64-0, as the opposition walked out in protest.

The new law will restrain the Supreme Court’s “reasonableness” powers, which allow judges to reform or strike down laws passed by parliament and decisions made by public officials.

Following 29 weeks of widespread protests, the move marks an escalation in the most divisive fight in Israeli society’s history, observers say.

The future looks uncertain, with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying there is “a serious threat” that the country is “going into civil war now”.

Those who oppose the legal reforms say they risk eroding Israel’s rule of law and balance of power in the country and may lead it into becoming an authoritarian state.

Supporters, by contrast, argue the reforms will enhance Israeli democracy by giving more power to elected officials.

The 30-hour debate that came before the vote was heated and punctuated by derisive outbursts and jeering.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Yariv Levin argued that the “reasonableness” rule gave too much legal power to the subjective views of judges.

Leading member of the opposition Yair Lapid said the reforms risked bringing Israel to the “abyss”.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to take a conciliatory tone. The Knesset, or parliament, is now going into recess and will return in autumn. Netanyahu said that all parties should take the opportunity to reach out and engage in talks “to reach a general agreement on everything”.

Lapid decried his comments as ultimately being “worthless and empty”.

Several other opposition members said Netanyahu had become a “virtual puppet” of his ultra-nationalist, hard-line Zionist coalition allies.

Rumours swirled last week that he might back out of the law reforms after the 73-year-old was hospitalised due to heat stroke.

It appears that the current Israeli Government is set to continue on its path. Future reforms are on the agenda, including ones that may change the way in which Supreme Court judges will be appointed.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a leading ultra-nationalist coalition member and firebrand, said that the passage of the new law was “only the beginning”.

“There are many more laws we need to pass as part of the judicial overhaul,” he said.

Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest at the changes on July 24. Overnight many demonstrations became violent, with footage circulating online apparently showing cars being driven at crowds of protestors.

Benny Gantz, a former Israeli Defence Force General and opposition politician, called on the protests to continue, saying they represented the “hope” of a secular, Liberal Israel.