Israel’s President Izchak Herzog has warned of a state crisis in view of the bitter dispute over the judicial reform of the right-wing religious government. “We are in a bad, very bad situation,” warned Herzog. He spoke of an “inner struggle that tears us apart”.

An agreement must be reached with all power to lead Israel out of the crisis. Critics accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of wanting to weaken the country’s independent judiciary and thereby effectively abolish the democratic separation of powers.

Thousands on the streets

Despite repeated mass demonstrations in its own country, the government is pushing ahead with its judicial reform in parliament. After hours of debate, the Knesset in Jerusalem approved an amendment to the law on Monday evening that is intended to make it significantly more difficult to declare a prime minister incapacitated. 61 out of 120 MEPs voted in favor and 51 against in the first reading. Two more readings are needed before the change comes into effect. The draft stipulates that a three-quarters majority in parliament is required for the dismissal of a prime minister. Only health reasons should be used as justification.

A non-governmental organization recently submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to have Netanyahu declared incapacitated over a corruption trial against him. From their point of view, the change in the law is tailored to his personal needs and is intended to protect him from punishment. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara warned of “absurd situations” and a “black hole” if the prime minister could no longer be recalled for his own misconduct.

coalition far right

Because Israel does not have a written constitution and the state is instead based on a set of basic laws, the Supreme Court is of particular importance in upholding the rule of law and human rights. President Herzog had already warned in February of a constitutional and social collapse in Israel if the government were to push through its plans against all odds. Netanyahu’s government, on the other hand, argues that the Supreme Court currently wields too much political influence. The coalition is the furthest to the right the country has ever had.

A debate and vote on further aspects of the judicial reform were also planned in Parliament on Tuesday night. The people’s representation should therefore be able to overturn decisions of the Supreme Court – and with a simple majority. It also aims to limit the court’s ability to overrule laws. Critics see the separation of powers as a pillar of democracy in danger. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had already expressed his concern about the controversial project.

Is there a national crisis?

According to media reports, the government intends to push through core elements of the reform in fast-track procedures before the end of this month. The aim is also for politicians to have more influence when appointing judges. Netanyahu’s government would then be the first to benefit and prevent undesirable candidates.

After several mass protests on the country’s streets, warnings are now mounting that Israel is heading towards a dangerous state crisis. On Monday, Netanyahu accused the Israeli media of deliberately spreading false reports on the subject. However, traditional allies such as the USA are now also criticizing the actions of the Netanyahu government.

Herzog said he was speaking to all parties involved to find a solution “that would safeguard the principles of the State of Israel for many generations to come.” It is “not a political compromise, but a Sisyphean task in an effort to find the right formula for balance and hope”.