Israel's Supreme Court strikes down controversial judicial overhaul

The law's failure to pass through the Supreme Court is a significant blow to the prime minister and his allies. Credit: AP

Israel's Supreme Court has struck down an important part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial judicial overhaul, in a landmark decision that could reopen divides in Israeli society that long pre-date the most recent Israel-Hamas conflict.

The court narrowly voted to overturn a law passed in July that prevents judges from striking down government decisions they deem to be "unreasonable".

In an 8-7 decision, justices rejected the law because of its “severe and unprecedented harm to the core character of the State of Israel as a democratic country.”

Tens of thousands of people had protested against the planned reforms, which threatened to trigger a constitutional crisis between the judicial and legislative branches of government and rattle the cohesion of the powerful military.

Opponents had argued that Mr Netanyahu’s efforts to remove the standard of reasonability could open doors to corruption and improper appointments of unqualified cronies to important positions.

The overhaul plans were delayed last year as Mr Netanyahu wanted to "avoid civil war" after the country was gripped by some of the largest protests in decades.

The societal fissures brought about by the law passing in the summer were for the most part put to one side after the bloody attack by Hamas militants on October 7, which triggered the ongoing war in Gaza, but Monday's court decision could reignite those tensions.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a Netanyahu ally and the architect of the overhaul, strongly criticised the court's decision, saying it demonstrated “the opposite of the spirit of unity required these days for the success of our soldiers on the front."

The ruling “will not discourage us,” Levin said without indicating whether the government would try to revive his plan in the short term. "As the campaigns are continuing on different fronts, we will continue to act with restraint and responsibility,” he said.

The law was part of a wider overhaul of the Israeli justice system, and its failure to pass through the Supreme Court was considered a significant blow to the prime minister and his allies.

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