Israel's new government unveils plan to weaken Supreme Court

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s justice minister on Wednesday unveiled the new government’s long-promised overhaul of the judicial system that aims to weaken the country's Supreme Court.

Critics say the plan will undermine the country's democracy by giving absolute power to the most right-wing coalition in Israeli history.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented a series of sweeping changes aimed at curbing the powers of the judiciary, including by allowing lawmakers to pass laws that the high court has struck down and effectively deemed unconstitutional.

Levin laid out a law that would empower the country’s 120-seat parliament, or Knesset, to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of 61 votes. Levin also proposed that politicians play a greater role in the appointment of Supreme Court judges.

The planned overhaul has already drawn fierce criticism from Israel’s attorney general and the Israeli opposition, underscoring the difficulties that Netanyahu’s new hard-right government will face.

Yair Lapid, former Prime Minister and head of the opposition, said he would fight the changes “in every possible way” and vowed to cancel them if he returns to power. “Those who carry out a unilateral coup in Israel need to know that we are not obligated to it in any way whatsoever,” he said.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's attorney general said Wednesday she opposes the appointment of a legislator convicted of tax offenses for Cabinet minister, a move that was essential to establishing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government.

The stance by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara sets up a major showdown between the government — Israel's most conservative ever — and the country's legal system, which the new government has promised to reform.

Proponents of the reforms say they will rein in an overly interventionist Supreme Court and help lawmakers govern and legislate. Critics say the reforms will weaken the Supreme Court, upend the country's system of checks and balances and imperil the fundamentals of Israel's democracy.

Some of the reforms could help Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, evade a conviction or even make his trial go away entirely.

As part of negotiations to form the current government, Israel's parliament last month changed a law to allow someone convicted on probation to serve as a Cabinet minister. That paved the way for Aryeh Deri, a key part of the coalition that brought Netanyahu back to power, to become health and interior minister, as well as finance minister in a rotation agreement after two years. Deri was convicted on probation last year for tax offenses.

Good governance groups saw the legal maneuver as a green light for corruption by a government cavalierly changing laws for political expediency.

Baharav-Miara made her standing clear in a note to the Supreme Court, which is set to soon discuss appeals against Deri's appointment. She said the appointment “radically deviates from the sphere of reasonability.” She has reportedly said she will not be defending the state in court against the appeals, because of her opposition.

Baharav-Miara was appointed by the previous government that vehemently opposed Netanyahu's rule. Netanyahu's allies have floated the idea of splitting up the post of attorney general into three roles including two that would be political appointments. That would water down the current attorney-general's authority while opening the door for Netanyahu to install someone favorable to throwing out the charges against him.

The Associated Press