Israel: Understanding this Moment

Your source for news from Israel during this time of uncertainty. Check back often for updates and resources to help frame what’s happening. For even more resources, see this resource page from JFNA (8/13/2023).

JFNA’s Sept. 12, 2023 update on Supreme Court

Updated: 9/13/2023

Key Points

  • A major Supreme Court hearing began in Jerusalem today. The case is being heard by all 15 judges of the country’s highest court, which is unprecedented.
  • The Court has been petitioned by multiple parties to strike down the first (and so far only) measure of the government’s proposed judicial reforms that has been passed into law.
  • At issue is the constitutionality of the new law that limits the Supreme Court’s power to overturn government decisions on the basis that they are “extremely unreasonable.”
  • Should the Supreme Court strike down the law, it would be the first time in Israel’s history that one of the country’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws will have been overturned by the Court.

Click here to read more.

In the closing days of 2022, a new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netayanu, was sworn in, supported by a coalition of 64 out of the Knesset’s 120 members.

“Reasonableness” Bill becomes law this summer

On July 26, 2023, the “Reasonableness” Bill that will reduce the Israeli Supreme Court’s power to strike down the government passed its third reading in the Knesset and is now law. See the full text of the new law here; and read the Jewish Federation’s statement on the passing of the law here

The new law passed with 64 votes in favor and 0 against, as opposition MKs boycotted the final vote on the bill in protest. The law stipulates that the courts can no longer use a “reasonableness” standard to strike down decisions made by the cabinet or government ministers, including appointments. Read more here about why many feel it will diminish the checks and balances of the Israeli system of government. 

Watch here a Jewish Federation webinar on the passing of the new law, held the August 25. 

Proposed Judicial Reforms

Israel has no written constitution, and a Basic Law meant to regulate the balance of power between the branches of government, in particular between the Knesset and the Supreme Court, has never been enacted. Therefore, the system of checks and balances between government authorities was left for the Supreme Court to establish. It did so, at least in the view of most of its justices, on the basis of Knesset legislation. Now Israel’s government has been considering reforms to that system.

The proposed judicial reforms have generated extraordinary levels of debate in Israeli society and around the world.

Initially, the coalition plowed ahead with the proposed changes, leading to a groundswell of protest and unrest in Israel that came to a head at the end of March, with much of the country shutting down amid rallies and strikes. The same day, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a freeze of the proposals and negotiations with the opposition under the auspices of President Herzog. See here for details from May 2023. 

At the beginning of June, a crucial vote took place in the Knesset concerning the make-up of the committee to select judges. See an explanation here. Following the vote, the President’s compromise talks broke down, and the coalition once again began pursuing a legislative process. Protest groups in israel mounted a massive “Day of Resistance” in Israel on July 11 to protest the government advancing a provision of its controversial judicial reform overhaul, including the law about reasonableness that was passed on July 24.