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In landmark ruling, Israel's Supreme Court rejects right-wing changes to judiciary

Israelis protested against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system and in support of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Ohad Zwigenberg
/
AP
Israelis protested against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system and in support of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel's Supreme Court has struck down a contentious law approved last July by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government that aimed to transform the country's basic judiciary law.

The attempted judicial overhaul by Netanyahu's right wing parliamentary coalition sparked months of protests by Israelis.

Critics said the Netanyahu government hoped to change the courts to erode minority rights, make it harder to fight official corruption and pave the way for the annexation of the West Bank.

In a statement posted on the social media site X, Israel's Supreme Court said the 15 justices decided on a narrow 8-7 majority in favor of revoking the change.

A broader majority of 12 justices ruled that Israel's Supreme Court had the authority to overrule the change.

The court held that the change would have caused "severe and unprecedented harm to the core characteristics of Israel as a democratic state," the court wrote.

"The idea was to remove the checks and balances, which were very poor to begin with, and permit any government legislation," said Noa Sattath, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and an opponent of the changes, in a recent interview with NPR.

After the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, Netanyahu suspended efforts to change the country's judiciary.

On Monday, Netanyahu's Likud party said the ruling was against the will of the people at a time of war.

This summer, Netanyahu's right-wing political partners had suggested they might challenge the legitimacy of the court if it overturned the law, which would set up a potential constitutional crisis in Israel.

As the war with Hamas continues in Gaza, Monday's court decision further complicates Netanyahu's tenure as Prime Minister.

In interviews this summer, he would not commit to accepting the court's decision should it overturn the law.

It is unclear whether the government will seek to make further changes to the judiciary's powers following this ruling.

The Israel Democracy Institute, a research group that works to bolster democratic institutions, praised the decision, calling it "important and precedent-setting."

"Now more than ever, while our sons and daughters are on the front lines fighting for their country, it is critical that they know that Israeli democracy is strong and unassailable," the Institute said in a statement.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.