Israel: Controversial law protecting the chair of PM

March 7, 2024

Israel's parliament, the Knesset, passed legislation that would significantly limit the conditions under which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be deemed unfit to govern.

The law — the first of several set to overhaul the judiciary — is believed to be intended to stop the Supreme Court or the Attorney General's Office from influencing possible impeachment.

The legislation stipulates that a three-quarters majority in parliament or the Cabinet would be needed to remove a prime minister from office — and only for psychological or other health reasons.

It was approved by the 120-seat Knesset in a 61-to-47 vote, with the remaining lawmakers either absent or abstaining from the vote, and is part of a series of legislative measures that opponents say will imperil judicial independence in Israel.

The non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute said the previously existing situation could have led to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who was appointed by the previous government, asserting that the prime minister was unfit to govern.

That could have happened if she decided that Netanyahu was trying to halt three court cases against him for corruption.

The terms of the new law — which could still face a legal challenge — preclude this, instead providing the government with guidance about what to do in the event of a non-functioning prime minister.

Baharav-Miara last month said that Netanyahu must stand back from his coalition's push for a judicial overhaul because of a potential conflict of interest arising from his trials.

The government's plan to overhaul the judicial system has plunged Israel into one of the worst domestic crises in its near 75-year history.

It would give the government more power in selecting Supreme Court judges, and Netanyahu wants it ratified by April 2.

Opponents of the legal changes say the government — Israel's most right-wing ever — is seeking to erode the separation of powers in Israel, putting the country on a path toward autocracy.

Netanyahu's administration says the changes are needed to restore a balance between the executive and judicial branches, claiming that liberal judges have become too interventionist in the running of the country.

The prime minister this week announced a softening of his overhaul plan — limiting to two the number of judges his administration can choose without support from at least one opposition member and one judge.

However, the opposition has said it still intends to challenge the legislation in the Supreme Court.

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