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Israel's parliament approves divisive judicial reform law

July 24, 2023

The Israeli parliament has voted in favor of a contentious judicial overhaul as thousands protested outside. Hours earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left hospital after an emergency heart procedure.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pictured in front of the Israeli flag
The Israeli prime minister said he would take part in the Knesset vote after being released from hospitalImage: Abir Sultan/EPA/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Israeli lawmakers on Monday approved a key portion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's divisive plan to reshape the country's judicial system.

The plans have split the nation since they were unveiled in January, sparking one of the biggest protest movements in Israel's history.

Failed attempt at compromise 

All 64 lawmakers from the ruling right-wing coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted in favor of the text, with opposition members of parliament boycotting the vote.

The vote, which is the second of three needed for the overhaul, came after a heated session in which opposition lawmakers chanted "shame" and stormed out of the chamber.

Israeli Knesset passes judiciary changes

Lawmakers debated the divisive legislation through the night into Monday, with Israel's President Isaac Herzog seeking a compromise and meeting Netanyahu at the hospital.

Despite Herzog's efforts to mediate, Israel's opposition leader Yair Lapid said efforts to reach an agreement had failed. 
"With this government, it is impossible to reach agreements that will preserve Israeli democracy," Lapid was reported as saying ahead of the vote.

Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir condemned the last-minute attempts at compromise.

The minister said he regretted that "parts of the coalition are negotiating and seeking a compromise that undermines the law."

Knesset approves key part of proposed judicial overhaul

The bill limits the Supreme Court's ability to strike down government decisions that the judges deem "unreasonable."

What has the reaction been?

The American government called the result of the parliamentary vote "unfortunate" in a statement.

"As a lifelong friend of Israel, President (Joe) Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

She said that it was "unfortunate" that the vote took place with the "slimmest possible majority."

Jean-Pierre said that the US would "continue to support the efforts of President Herzog and other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue."

Meanwhile, Germany's Foreign Office said Berlin was looking "with great concern at the deepening tensions in Israeli society."

Following the vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the reform a "necessary move for democracy." He insisted that the Supreme Court will remain independent.

Netanyahu said that he hoped his coalition would reach an agreement with the opposition on the judicial reform plan by the end of November.

Protesters block roads 

Thousands of protesters gathered near parliament in the hours leading up to the vote, with some of them having camped there as a show of opposition to the proposal.

Some banged on drums and blew horns as they blocked a route leading to the Knesset, while police used water cannons to push the demonstrators back. Police said 19 people had been arrested in the protests as lawmakers began the voting process.

Protesters gather in Jerusalem ahead of key judicial vote

Proponents of the changes — a core part of a wider judicial restructuring — say they are needed to curb the powers of the Supreme Court.

Critics say the legal revamp, driven by a governing coalition that includes religious extremist and ultranationalist parties, will undermine Israel's democratic values.

They say the plan will erode Israel's system of checks and balances, and could open the door for authoritarian rule.

Only hours earlier, the Israeli prime minister was released from the hospital on Monday after an emergency cardiac procedure, ahead of the parliamentary session.

The Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv admitted Netanyahu late on Saturday after doctors said a monitor had detected an irregular heart rhythm. Medics said the following day that an operation to fit a pacemaker had gone smoothly.

rc/fb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)