Israeli parliament passes key judicial reform measure

The Israeli Parliament voted on Monday a key measure of the judicial reform project carried by the right-wing government, at the origin of a vast movement of protest and which arouses the concern of foreign allied countries.

This measure, which aims to limit the possibility for the Supreme Court to invalidate a government decision, was approved by the 64 deputies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, out of a total of 120.

Opposition politicians boycotted the vote, some shouting “shame, shame”.

Benjamin Netanyahu, 73, participated in the vote after being released from the hospital where he had been admitted for the installation of a pacemaker.

The police had shortly before dispersed with water cannons hundreds of people who were blocking the entrance to the Parliament in Jerusalem.

After the vote, police tried to evacuate protesters who were blocking roads in Jerusalem, according to a statement.

Since its announcement in January, the justice reform bill has sparked one of the biggest protests in Israel’s history, which intensified as the vote approached.

The measure voted on Monday, the first of the reform to become law, prevents the Supreme Court from invalidating a government decision by judging its “reasonableness”. It was approved at first reading on July 11.

This so-called “reasonableness” clause had forced Mr. Netanyahu in January to dismiss the number two in the government, Arié Dery, convicted of tax evasion, following the intervention of the Supreme Court.

The reform championed by the government, which includes ultra-Orthodox and far-right Jewish parties, aims to increase the power of elected officials over that of magistrates.

The government believes it is necessary to ensure a better balance of power, but its critics see it as a threat to democracy and fear that it opens the way to an authoritarian drift.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog led last-minute negotiations to reach a compromise between the opposition and the government, citing “a national emergency”.

“Source of Division”

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden urged Israel, his ally, not to rush reform, “increasingly divisive” according to him.

“It doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush (reform), the goal should be to bring people together and find consensus,” he said.

In Germany, the head of diplomacy Annalena Baerbock stressed the importance of “the independence of justice”, during an interview this weekend with her Israeli counterpart, said a spokesperson in Berlin.

Mr. Netanyahu said on Sunday that he was continuing “efforts to complete the reform […] and efforts to do so in agreement” with the opposition.

At the origin of the project, the Minister of Justice Yariv Levin declared after the vote that he wanted to “reach an agreement” on the continuation of the project, “in the interest of the nation”.

Critics of the Prime Minister, on trial for corruption, accuse him of wanting to use this reform to mitigate a possible judgment against him.

The head of the Histadrut trade union center, Arnon Bar David, assured Monday that “any unilateral progress in the reform would have serious consequences”, brandishing the threat of a “general strike if necessary”.

“Dark Forces”

“Today, the first law that will begin to overthrow Israeli democracy will probably pass” in parliament, Shahaf Kushinsky, 34, a high-tech employee who came to demonstrate near the Knesset, said on Monday.

“It will give the government unlimited power. It is the gateway to a dictatorship and that is why we are here, we are fighting for our democracy,” he added.

Other provisions also cause discontent, such as the one modifying the process for appointing judges, already adopted by the deputies at first reading.

The demonstrations have attracted Israelis from all political and social backgrounds, secular or religious, peace activists, blue-collar workers or workers in the technology sector, but also army reservists, in a context of rising Israeli-Palestinian violence.

“I do everything in my power in a democratic way,” said Avital Mesterman, a 42-year-old teacher who came from Tel Aviv to demonstrate in Jerusalem, saying she was “optimistic thanks to all the people who are present here”.

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