'Supreme Court is striking down laws left and right'

Jewish Home chief slams 'judicial revolution' and activist Supreme Court, claims court has gotten used to running roughshod over Knesset.

David Rosenberg,

Meeting of Jewish Home leadership
Meeting of Jewish Home leadership

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) defended the Likud-led coalition Tuesday morning from criticism by President Reuven Rivlin, who accused the government Monday of assailing the “gatekeepers of democracy”.

Speaking at the opening of the Knesset’s 2017/2018 winter session, President Rivlin slammed the Netanyahu government for “what appears to be an ongoing attempt to weaken the gatekeepers of Israeli democracy,” the president said, referring to judicial reforms proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to restrict the Supreme Court’s judicial activism.

"For example, regarding the courts, an abyss lies between the responsible and courageous attempt to define, after many years, the relations between the legislative and judicial branches, to limit judicial review, to ask questions about the appointment mechanism, to seek a more varied and representative panel of judges - and the attempt to intimidate the court, to weaken it as an institution and to invite the public to challenge its authority and its decisions," the president said.

But President Rivlin also criticized the so-called “Judicial Revolution” of the 1990s and 2000s, led by then-chief justice Aharon Barak, who argued that Israel’s Basic Laws formed a de facto construction, despite never having been formally adopted as such. Barak also pushed the court towards judicial activism, claiming rights of judicial review and judicial supremacy to overrule the Knesset.

“I stood before one of the giants of Israeli law, Aharon Barak, and warned that the announcement of the judicial revolution was actually a declaration of a coup. I said to him then, and I quote: ‘Any definition that changes the balance [between the branches of government], any act that expresses or even hints at stepping into the authority of another branch, creates a reality of ‘chaotic democracy,’ of a systemic and dangerous chaos,” Rivlin said.

On Tuesday, Bennett responded to Rivlin’s comments, expressing support for the president’s criticism of Barak’s revolution, while defending the government from Rivlin’s accusations reformers seek to “intimidate the court”.

“The president made a scathing, unconventional – and for the most part – correct speech,” said Bennett.

“He said explicitly that what Aharon Barak and his successors did was an illegitimate revolution. There’s no question that in recent years the court has overstepped its authority and has begun to nullify laws without compunction. Over the past few months, the Supreme Court has overruled laws and government acts left and right.”

“That being said, I do not agree with the second part of what Rivlin said, about the weakening of state [institutions].”

Over the past year, the Supreme Court has drawn criticism for a series of decisions tossing out laws passed by the Knesset and policies adopted by the government on a variety of issues.

In January, the court effectively barred a compromise agreement between the government and residents of the town of Amona, preventing the state from building a replacement community at a nearby site.

In August, the court barred the government from deporting illegal immigrants, and a month later struck down an amendment to the draft law extending draft deferments to full-time yeshiva students.

This week, the court threw out a petition by residents of Netiv Ha’avot in Gush Etzion, rejecting their request that portions of their homes built on land claimed by private owners be removed, while the remainder of their homes be shielded from previous-issued demolition orders.

The court has ordered that 17 homes in Netiv Ha’avot be demolished no later than March 2018, after it ruled that portions of the homes were built on land claimed by private owners.

Residents responded that the houses were almost entirely situated on state land, with only tiny portions of the structures – in some cases as little as 1% - being located on the disputed land. In their appeal, residents petitioned the court to merely remove the portions of the homes which sit on the disputed land, while leaving the rest of the structures intact.