Israel’s Supreme Court has begun eagerly awaited deliberations on a highly controversial judicial overhaul of the right-wing religious government. For the first time in the state’s history, all 15 judges are meeting to discuss petitions against a recently passed change in the law. It is still unclear when a decision can be expected. It is expected that the deliberations could last several weeks.

At the end of July, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government passed an amendment to a basic law that deprives the Supreme Court of the opportunity to take action against “inappropriate” decisions by the government or individual ministers. The change is seen as the first core part of a judicial restructuring pushed forward by the government, which has been dividing large sections of Israeli society since the beginning of the year. On Monday evening, tens of thousands of people again took to the streets against the government’s plans.

Critics see the government’s actions as a threat to the separation of powers and thus Israel’s democracy. Netanyahu’s government argues that the court is too powerful in Israel and interferes too much in political issues.

The outcome of the discussions is uncertain

It is unclear how the Supreme Court will react. In Israel’s history, no Basic Law or amendment to the Basic Law has ever been repealed, only regular laws that violate the Basic Law. The State of Israel does not have a written constitution and is instead based on a collection of basic laws. Therefore, the Supreme Court is particularly important in upholding the rule of law and human rights.

If the court goes against the law and the government does not accept the decision, a state crisis could result. Such a decision by the court would not be without controversy. Proponents of the proposed law repeatedly argue that judges lack the authority to decide on changes to basic laws because – unlike MPs or ministers – they are not directly elected by the people.

Further efforts to reach agreement

Meanwhile, efforts to reach a compromise continued in the background. Previous talks with the opposition led by President Izchak Herzog have so far been unsuccessful. On Monday, several Israeli media outlets reported that Netanyahu could now advocate for a unilateral weakening of the law without the consent of the opposition. However, it was unclear whether he would receive enough support within his coalition.

Opposition leader Jair Lapid accused Netanyahu of wanting to buy time before a possible meeting with US President Joe Biden in the USA. Opposition politician Benny Gantz signaled that he would be willing to accept a compromise. “If a solution is on the table that protects democracy, I will be there.” He doesn’t care what Netanyahu’s motive is.

According to reports, the possible compromise proposal includes, among other things, revising the passed law and putting other parts of the comprehensive legislative proposal on hold for 18 months.