After a three-month hiatus, Israel’s far-right government was set to move forward on Monday with part of its plan to limit judicial influence, a project critics say will undermine the integrity of Israeli democracy.
The dispute is part of a wider ideological and cultural confrontation between the government and its supporters, who want to create a more religious and nationalist state, and their opponents, who have a more secular and pluralistic vision.
Parliament is set to hold a nonbinding vote on a bill that would limit the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn decisions by elected officials. The bill would prevent the Supreme Court from striking down the government on “reasonableness” — a flexible and contentious legal standard that currently lets the court intervene in administration.
If the bill passes preliminary reading on Monday, it would still need to pass two more readings in the coming days or weeks before it becomes law.
Are more protests expected?
While the vote is not a final decision, it will almost certainly reignite the kind of disruptive mass demonstrations that brought the country to a standstill in the spring.
Mass events are planned for Monday evening and Tuesday, when protesters are expected to hold rallies and block roads and access to key infrastructure, such as the country’s main airport.
What is the vote about?
Reasonableness is a legal standard used by many legal systems, including Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. A decision is deemed unreasonable if a court rules that it was made without considering all relevant factors or without giving significant weight to each factor, or giving irrelevant factors too much weight.
Israeli judges recently used the tool to ban Aryeh Deri, a veteran ultra-Orthodox politician, from serving in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. They said it was unreasonable to nominate Mr. Deri because he had just been convicted of tax fraud.
Why does the government want this change?
The government and its supporters say sanity is too vague a concept, and never codified in Israeli law. They argue that it gives the court too much leeway to intervene in political decisions and undermines Israeli democracy by giving unelected judges too much power over elected lawmakers. Some also say the court still has enough other tools to scrutinize government decisions.
Why are critics opposed to the move?
Opponents fear that if the voted measure becomes law, the court will be much less able to prevent government overreach.
They say the government, unfettered by the court, may find it easier to craft laws that would exonerate or reduce any sentence handed down to Mr. Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for corruption.
Some warn that the government could also be freer to replace the attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, who is overseeing Mr. Netanyahu’s prosecution. Mr. Netanyahu denies any plan to interrupt his trial.
Critics also fear that the changes might allow the government – the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israeli history – to limit civil liberties or undermine secular aspects of Israeli society.
What happened to the government’s other plans to overhaul the judiciary?
The government initially tried to implement different bills that would give it more control over the selection of judges, limit the ability of the court to override parliament and allow parliament the right to override the court. Mr. Netanyahu abruptly paused those efforts in late March, after a wave of strikes and protests shut down parts of the country, business leaders began pulling out of the Israeli economy and a growing number of reservists said they would refuse to volunteer for duty.
The government then negotiated with opposition leaders for weeks to find a compromise. Mr. Netanyahu also vowed not to proceed with the replacement proposal, one of the most contentious parts of the plan.
But the opposition halted those talks last month after ruling lawmakers blocked the process by which new judges are appointed – a move the opposition said undermined their confidence in the talks.
In response, the government decided to move forward with lower aspects of the review, mainly the removal of the reasonableness mechanism.
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.