Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Thursday, the Israeli parliament passed a law preventing the Supreme Court from removing a sitting prime minister for inability to carry out his or her duties. This move was tactical, not strategic. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, and he agreed with the Supreme Court in 2020 that as prime minister he would recuse himself from any laws or policies affecting the judiciary, since he has a conflict of interest.
The Likud Party’s plans for gutting the judiciary have therefore been overseen so far by Justice Minister Yariv Levin.
After the new law was passed, however, Netanyahu announced that he would take personal charge of the project to reduce the power of the Israeli courts vis-a-vis the executive and the legislature.
Amir Tai at CNN – quotes him as saying Thursday evening before he headed to London, “Until today my hands were tied. No more. I enter the event, for the sake of the people and the country, I will do everything in my power to reach a solution and calm the spirits in the nation.”
The country’s Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, became alarmed at this speech. She clearly does not believe that the new law changes anything about the 2020 agreement Netanyahu signed to keep his mitts off the courts while he was being tried by them.
She published an open letter to the prime minister on Friday, saying, according to CNN “Last night you publicly announced that you intend to violate the ruling of the Supreme Court and act contrary to the opinion of the legal advisor to the government.”
The Israeli newspaper Arab 48 reported her as writing, “You have contravened the Supreme Court’s decision, according to which, as a prime minister charged with criminal offenses, you must refrain from taking steps that raise a reasonable suspicion of a conflict of interest. Amending the law on removal does not relieve you of this obligation.”
She added, “The judicial situation is clear, and you should refrain from any dealings with initiatives to make changes in the judiciary, including the composition of the Committee for the Appointment of Judges, because dealing with them is an act that involves a conflict of interests.”
She warned that for him to act in this way “is illegal and contaminated by a conflict of interest.”
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The fascists that Netanyahu has gathered around himself dismissed her as a partisan hack. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, DW reports, tweeted that “If Ms. Baharav-Miara wants to make decisions on behalf of elected officials, she is welcome to form a party and run for parliament.”
Arab 48 reports that Netanyahu announced that his parliamentary coalition will vote in the coming week on a law to change the composition of the committee that appoints justices, and which will give the governing coalition control over that committee. He made clear that he is intent on pushing the changes in the judiciary.
Even as a constitutional crisis is brewing between Netanyahu and the courts, so is a crisis in the Israeli military. Netanyahu’s Minister of Defense, Yoav Galant, is worried about an increasing refusal of Israeli reservists to participate in training or maneuvers, in protest against Netanyahu’s attempt to curb the power of the courts. Galant wanted to give a speech about the crisis of military preparedness on Thursday evening, in which he planned to call for a moratorium on changes in the courts, but Netanyahu made him cancel the speech.
NPR reports on the increasing number of reservists refusing to report for duty. They include an unprecedented 200 reservist pilots, who are refusing to fly as a direct consequence of Netanyahu’s Thursday evening speech. These pilots are usually the most jingoistic part of the Israeli population, and their threat to refuse to fly is the kind of thing that made Minister Galant so nervous that he was willing to try to contradict Netanyahu.