Heading the most far-right government in Israel’s history, Netanyahu has been accused of using the legislation to try to circumvent his own legal problems.
The Knesset passed the bill on Monday, but it is just one element of a wider effort to overhaul the judiciary – and one that many in the opposition suspect could be partly brought on by Netanyahu’s legal troubles.
Here is all you need to know:
What cases has Netanyahu been fighting in court?
- In 2019, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit filed criminal charges against Netanyahu in three investigations known as cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.
- In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are accused of receiving gifts, including champagne and cigars, from prominent Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer in return for political favours.
- Case 2000 centres on accusations that Netanyahu negotiated a deal with Israel’s best-selling daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, for favourable coverage in exchange for legislative actions against a rival newspaper.
- In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of granting regulatory favours to a telecommunications company, Bezeq Telecom Israel, in return for positive media coverage on a news website controlled by the company’s former chairman.
- The trial got under way in May 2020 and has been repeatedly delayed over defence and prosecution disputes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and corruption. He has pleaded not guilty and says he is the victim of a politically orchestrated “witch-hunt” by the media and the left to remove him from office.
Has Netanyahu been accused of using the judicial changes to save himself?
- The bill passed on Monday limits the Supreme Court’s powers to check the government but does not appear to impact the cases against Netanyahu. The prime minister’s opponents worry that this is only the beginning and argue that any changes to the powers of the judiciary might help him evade conviction or even make the cases against him disappear altogether.
- One proposed reform would allow the government to appoint more members to a committee that oversees appointees to the Supreme Court, giving Netanyahu the power to pack the court with more friendly judges.
- Benny Gantz’s opposition Blue and White alliance previously raised concerns that “whether or not the charges prove to be true or without merit”, Netanyahu will continue to act in accordance with his own political and personal interests.
What does the government say?
- While critics say the judicial changes are a power grab that would push Israel towards autocracy, Netanyahu has defended them and dismissed the protests, stating that his aim is to restore a proper balance between the three branches of government.
- Should the government succeed in its plans, some former officials such as one-time Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri could be reinstated by the prime minister despite criminal convictions. Netanyahu was forced to dismiss the minister at the beginning of the year after the Supreme Court ruled that Deri’s tax fraud conviction prohibited him from holding a ministerial position.
The most far-right Israeli government?
- After his stunning success in the 2022 elections, Netanyahu formed a coalition with several far-right parties: Jewish Power, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir; the Religious Zionist Party, led by Bezalel Smotrich; and the anti-LGBTQ party Noam.
- Ben-Gvir and Smotrich have a long history of using incendiary rhetoric against Palestinians. They oppose Palestinian statehood and support extending Israeli control over the occupied West Bank.
- Critics say that the government’s policies in the occupied West Bank could cause a security escalation there. The territory is experiencing its worst violence for nearly 20 years.
- Many Palestinians say the Israeli opposition ignores its own role in continuing the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, which has continued under governments headed by all the leading Israeli parties.