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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israeli Supreme Court ruling expected mid-January

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel during a meeting with President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 18, 2023. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Aaron Boxerman

A looming Supreme Court decision on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive plan to overhaul Israel’s courts returned to major public attention Thursday after an Israeli television channel reported that a leaked draft of the court’s ruling showed a narrow majority of the court intended to block a key part of the overhaul.

The development revived Israel’s confrontation with the country’s deep fissures over the overhaul plan and threatened to disrupt Netanyahu’s fragile wartime government. The overhaul plan had prompted huge, monthslong protests that, before the war, were seen as one of the gravest domestic political crises Israel had faced in the 75 years since the nation’s founding.

The New York Times has not obtained a copy of the leaked decision, and the Israeli television outlet, Channel 12, did not publish a full version of the document. A spokesperson for Israel’s courts said Thursday that “the writing of the ruling is not yet complete.” The court’s decision is expected in mid-January.

The ruling has the potential to throw Israel’s unity government, formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terrorist attacks, into disarray as the country wages war in the Gaza Strip and faces international pressure over the scope of its military campaign.

The Channel 12 report, on Wednesday night, said that eight of the court’s 15 judges were set to overturn a law passed in July that stripped the Israeli Supreme Court of the power to overturn government actions and appointments it deems “unreasonable.”

Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition had pushed the law through the Israeli Parliament, saying the law was needed to remove the court’s ability to overrule the will of the majority.

Before the Hamas invasion, two members of Israel’s new war Cabinet — one of Netanyahu’s longtime rivals, Benny Gantz, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant — had criticized the government’s pursuit of the overhaul. Netanyahu tried to fire Gallant, the defense minister, after he criticized the pace of the plan, only to reverse his decision amid widespread outrage.

Should the court rule against Netanyahu, it could set off a constitutional crisis within Israel if his allies try to defy it. Regardless of the outcome, the case is considered one of the most consequential in Israel’s history. Not only could it determine the extent to which politicians are subject to judicial oversight, but it has also led to the spectacle of a court weighing in on an issue that directly affects its own powers.

The law was part of Netanyahu’s wider plan to weaken the country’s judiciary, which led to the months of huge street protests. Opponents, including Israel’s chief justice and attorney general, said the plan — if fully carried out — would deal a fatal blow to the country’s separation of powers.

But the dispute faded into the background after the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7, in which roughly 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 were taken hostage to Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.

Four days after the attack, Netanyahu formed a wartime government with opponents including Gantz, the leader of the opposition National Unity alliance, who opposed the judicial overhaul.

The crisis over the judicial changes was a proxy for deeper rifts over Israel’s future. Secular and liberal Israelis view the Supreme Court as a bulwark in a country that is becoming more conservative and religious.

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