On Tuesday, planned protests broke out across the country in Israel in response to the passage of a bill in the Knesset by a vote of 64 - 56, which would limit the authority of Israel's Supreme Court to overturn legislation and executive action simply on the basis of "reasonableness." The bill passed a second vote early this week but faces a third and final vote in the Knesset before it becomes law.
The proposed judicial reforms, pushed forward by the right-wing coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been a major source of contention in Israel for the past few months. Those in support of the bill have pointed at the completely unchecked power of the Supreme Court as justification for reform, while detractors of the bill have pushed back by claiming that efforts to check the power of the Supreme Court are a power grab by the right-wing coalition and an undermining of the rule of law, according to JNS.
Nixing the unreasonable "reasonableness" standard
The debate rests on the doctrine of "the reasonableness standard," which is a legal principle allowing judicial review of any government action which the Supreme Court finds to be decided in an unreasonable manner. The problem is that the standard of reasonable versus unreasonable has been left undefined, leaving the standard of what is reasonable completely arbitrary and giving the Supreme Court basically unchecked power to decide what legislation should be allowed to pass from any coalition in power.
The Israeli Supreme Court, which is generally viewed as historically left-wing, has long used the reasonableness standard to circumvent the legislative branch of Israel's government. A quick look back at some of the major Supreme Court rulings gives us an understanding of why Netanyahu and his supporters seek to reign in the power of the Court.
Some notable times the court has used the "unreasonabless" standard
Just earlier this year, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as interior and health minister was "unreasonable," and that the Prime Minister must remove him from office. This added to the already deep tensions over judicial reform as the decision to overrule the appointment of a cabinet member using the arbitrary, reasonable standard was viewed as another example of what the right wing in Israel views as an overreach by the Supreme Court.
In 2014, Israel's High Court ordered the government to evacuate and demolish the Jewish settlement of Amona in Judea and Samaria, which had been established in 1995, leaving 300 Jews with their homes destroyed and dreams of building a new community shattered. The decision ended a legal battle that had been raging for years as, stretching back to 2006; the Israeli government sought to fight the court's earlier expulsion decision.
In 2005, the Supreme Court used the reasonableness standard to reject a legal challenge from settlers living in the Gush Katif region in Gaza. The petitioners claimed that the forcible evacuation from their territory ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon violated their property rights, as well as their right to dignity and liberty. However, the Supreme Court rejected the petition 10 to 1 and ruled that the evacuation and forcible destruction of Jewish communities in Gush Katif was lawful. This led to 8,000 Jews being forced from their homes, paving the way for Hamas to take power.
In 2017, the Knesset passed a historic bill that legalized 4,000 Jewish homesin Area C of Judea and Samaria, a tremendous step towards Israel finally applying full sovereignty to every community. It was also the first time the Knesset sought to apply Israeli law in Area C, according to the JPost. But in 2020, the Supreme Court used the reasonableness standard to strike down the decision by the Knesset, ruling that the bill was unconstitutional and violated the rights of the Palestinian population.
Democracy is alive and well
Many have decried the Israeli coalition as anti-democracy, yet the fact that people are allowed to protest—causing major inconvenience when they have blocked roads and the airport—is one display of Israel’s vibrant democracy. The judicial reforms also strengthen the will of the people, by taking power from unelected judges in the courts and giving it to officials elected by the people.
We should continue praying for peace in Israel. That agreement will be reached by those who want the best for the nation. And we should also continue to support Jews living in and rebuilding, all of their homeland. No matter what people, and courts and other nations, and the United Nations say about Israel’s status—biblically, historically, legally and morally we can know that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish People!