Passage of Israel’s judicial reform entrenches ‘Jewish supremacy’

The new law passed by Knesset will make it easier for the far-right government to pursue policies that harm Palestinians, experts say.

Israeli lawmakers gather at the Knesset plenum to vote on a bill that would limit some Supreme Court powers [Amir Cohen/Reuters]

Palestinians say a law passed by the Israeli parliament that limits some powers of the Supreme Court will make it easier for the Israeli government to pursue policies that serve its “far-right” agenda.

The law is part of a wider effort from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies to overhaul the judiciary and prevents the Supreme Court from vetoing government decisions on the grounds of being “unreasonable”.

The law “weakens and eliminates any form of supervision that the Supreme Court has over the decisions of the government,” Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset or Israeli parliament, told Al Jazeera.

This is especially the case when it comes to “decisions that have to do with official appointments and other major decisions”, Tibi said.

Amjad Iraqi, senior editor of +972 Magazine, said these appointments determine who holds senior positions in the police, army, finance institutions, and more.

Such appointments directly affect Palestinian citizens of Israel, for instance, “how much money they get” and how police departments “pursue the vision of the far-right government”, Iraqi told Al Jazeera from Haifa.

The passage of the law on Monday removes the potential for Palestinians to challenge these appointments “legally and administratively”, he said, adding that governments can now implement their policies “much quicker”.

The bill passed by a 64-0 vote on Monday, as the opposition boycotted the vote and stormed out following a heated Knesset session.

‘Negative implications for Palestinians’

The Supreme Court “has not helped nor fairly judged Palestinians and has ruled in favour of settlers, assassinations, killings, and the occupation itself”, Tibi said.

“We don’t want the fascist government to gain complete control over the judiciary – even if the judiciary’s decisions are biased,” he added. “This will allow the government even more control over decisions that will have very negative implications towards Palestinians.”

The Supreme Court is viewed as the body that upholds the rule of law and is meant to play an important role in checking executive power in the country – which is largely in the hands of the government.

The government’s plans have sparked months of mass protests, which Tibi said would likely continue “for a while”. Protesters blocked a road leading up to the parliament ahead of the vote while many businesses including retail centres, banks and petrol stations, took part in a strike on Monday to oppose the legislation.

Police have used water cannon in a bid to disperse protesters, Israeli media outlet Haaretz reported, describing the latest developments as an “unprecedented crisis”.

Thousands of military reservists have said they would not report for duty if Netanyahu’s far-right government continues with the plans.

Military service is obligatory for most Jewish men and women above 18 and many volunteer for reservist duties well into their 40s.

Despite this “massive disobedience”, the far right is still “very set in its path”, Iraqi said. “The protests have not really made the dent to fully stop the government … the ruling coalition just doesn’t care.”

Supreme Court ‘in lockstep with Israel’

Tariq Kenney-Shawa, a US policy fellow at Al-Shabaka think tank, echoed Tibi’s concerns, saying that instead of acting as a “check and balance to Israel’s most extreme far-right currents”, the Supreme Court has only “served to further enable them”.

In 2021, the Supreme Court upheld a controversial law that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, rejecting claims that the law discriminates against minorities.

The bill, which was passed in 2018, downgrades the status of Palestinians and the Arabic language and considers the expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank as a national value.

The Supreme Court has also allowed Israeli authorities to continue placing Palestinians in administrative detention, a practice of holding them on secret evidence, without charge or trial.

Kenney-Shawa warned that the new law could lead to an “acceleration of policies” that further serve Israel’s agenda, and could “displace and ethnically cleanse Palestinians and further entrench Jewish supremacy”.

According to Kenney-Shawa, this is also why many Palestinians have not supported the protest movement, which he said aims to “protect and uphold this [existing] system”.

Diana Buttu, an analyst and former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the Israeli Supreme Court has never been liberal and has never served Palestinians in “any way, shape, or form”.

In fact, it is “in lockstep with Israel and with the occupation”, Buttu told Al Jazeera.

The parliament has ratified the law because the right wing “wants to make sure that there is never a challenge to its occupation”, she said.

‘Only the beginning’

Buttu said the process of overhauling the judiciary has been in the pipeline for years.

An example of this is the types of cases that can be brought before the Israeli courts by Palestinians. These have been “limited” and “very highly curtailed”, she said, meaning that cases could spend years and years winding through the legal system.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who leads the far-right Jewish Power party, has said the passage of the contentious bill was “only the beginning”.

“There are many more laws we need to pass as part of the judicial overhaul,” he was quoted by The Times of Israel as saying.

Meanwhile, Mouin Rabbani, Middle East analyst and co-editor of the Jadaliyya magazine, said the crisis over the reforms is primarily an “internal dispute among Israel’s Jewish population”.

The crisis could potentially deepen and lead to a “growing polarisation” within Israeli society and its institutions, Rabbani told Al Jazeera.

In fact, the passing of the new law may benefit Palestinians if the impacts include the “weakening of Israel’s armed forces and security services”, he said.

Reservists’ warnings that they would not serve have prompted fears that the military’s preparedness could be compromised.

“These are dangerous cracks,” military chief Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi wrote in a letter to soldiers on Sunday. “If we will not be a strong and cohesive military, if the best do not serve” in the Israeli army, Halevi said, “we will no longer be able to exist as a country in the region”.

Source: Al Jazeera