After a three-month hiatus, Israel’s far-right government was set on Monday to move forward with part of its plan to limit judicial influence, a project that critics say will undermine the integrity of Israel’s democracy.
The dispute is part of a wider ideological and cultural standoff between the government and its supporters, who want to create a more religious and nationalist state, and their opponents, who hold a more secular and pluralist vision.
Parliament is set to hold a nonbinding vote on a bill that would limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down decisions by elected officials. The bill would prevent the Supreme Court from overruling the government on grounds of “reasonableness” — a flexible and contentious legal standard that currently lets the court intervene in governance.
If the bill passes a preliminary reading on Monday, it would still need to pass two further readings in the coming days or weeks before it becomes law.
Are more protests expected?
Even though 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, like the country’s main airport.
What is the reasonableness standard?
Reasonableness is a legal standard used by many judicial systems, including Australia, Britain and Canada. A decision is deemed unreasonable if a court rules that it was made without considering all relevant factors or without giving relevant weight to each factor, or by giving irrelevant factors too much weight.
Israeli judges recently used the tool to bar Aryeh Deri, a veteran ultra-Orthodox politician, from serving in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. They said it was unreasonable to appoint Mr. Deri because he had recently been convicted of tax fraud.
Why does the government want this change?
The government and its supporters say that reasonableness is too vague a concept, and one 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 that the court still has enough other tools to scrutinize government decisions.
Why do critics oppose the move?
Opponents fear that if the measure being voted on becomes law, the court will be much less able to prevent government overreach.
They say that the government, untrammeled by the court, might find it easier to create laws that would exonerate or lessen any punishment given to Mr. Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for corruption.
Some warn that the government might also be freer to replace the attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, who oversees Mr. Netanyahu’s prosecution. Mr. Netanyahu denies any plan to disrupt his trial.
Critics also fear that the changes might allow the government — the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israeli history — to restrict 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 enact different bills that would give it more control over the selection of judges, restrict the court’s ability to override Parliament and allow Parliament the right to override the court. Mr. Netanyahu paused those efforts abruptly in late March, after a wave of strikes and protests shut down parts of the country, business leaders began to divest from the Israeli economy and a growing number of reserve soldiers said they would refuse to volunteer for duty.
The government then negotiated with opposition leaders for weeks in an effort to find a compromise. Mr. Netanyahu also promised not to proceed with the override proposal, one of the most contentious parts of the plan.
But the opposition quit those talks last month after governing lawmakers obstructed the process by which new judges are appointed — a move that the opposition said undermined their faith in the negotiations.
In response, the government decided to move ahead with lower-profile aspects of the overhaul, principally the scrapping of the reasonableness mechanism.
Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.