Israel passes anti-competitive bans on some Supreme Court powers as protests rage

  • The bill restricts the Supreme Court’s power to overturn government decisions
  • Political groups, labor unions challenge program changes
  • People’s protests spread to the military

JERUSALEM, July 24 (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament on Monday approved the first judicial overhaul bill sought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after months of failed reconciliation efforts to end the country’s constitutional crisis broke down.

The amendment, which limits the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn certain government decisions deemed “unfair”, was passed by a 64-0 vote after opposition lawmakers walked out of the session in protest, some of them “for shame!”

It’s part of plans announced by the government in January, soon after it took office, following months of unprecedented nationwide protests and stirring concern among allies abroad for Israel’s democratic health.

However, further impasse occurred. Within minutes of the vote, a political watchdog and the centrist opposition leader said they would appeal the law to the Supreme Court.

Hoping to promote a tentative agreement between the religious-nationalist coalition government and the opposition, the Histadrut union threatened to declare a general strike if the government continued its “unilateral” actions.

Yet Justice Minister Yariv Levin was the architect who delivered Netanyahu the package of reforms needed to create greater balance between the branches of government.

“We have taken the first step in the historic process of fixing the justice system, restoring the powers taken from the government and the Knesset (parliament),” he said in a speech, dismissing Washington’s calls for compromise.

The crisis has deeply divided Israeli society and seeped into the military, with opposition leaders saying thousands of volunteer workers will not return to work if the government’s plans continue and former top officials warning that Israel’s combat readiness could be at risk.

This stance has also affected the economy. Tel Aviv’s main stock indexes fell more than 2.5% after the vote in the Knesset and the shekel extended losses to 1.2% against the dollar.

‘catastrophe’

Police used water cannons to disperse protesters who opposed the judicial reform. After the vote, police said they were dispersing a crowd that blocked a Jerusalem-area highway.

Netanyahu’s coalition is determined to push back against what it describes as an overreach by the Supreme Court, saying it has become too much of a political intervention.

Critics say Monday’s amendment was rushed through parliament and opens the door to abuses of power by removing one of the few effective checks on executive power in a country without a formal written constitution.

“This government can win the war, but not the war,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said, as protests intensified.

Israel’s two biggest banks, Leumi ( LUMI.TA ) and Hapoalim ( POLI.TA ), said on Monday they would allow workers to strike without losing wages.

A forum of 150 of Israel’s largest companies went on strike and two of Israel’s biggest malls, Azrieli ( AZRG.TA ) and Big ( BIG.TA ), said stores in their shopping centers would be closed.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Steven Scheer, Ari Rabinovitch and Henriette Sakar; Editing by Mirel Fahmy and Tomasz Janowski

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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