For the second time in just over two weeks, Israel’s High Court of Justice is hearing a petition calling for it to strike down an amendment to a Basic Law, this time one specifically dealing with the court’s ability to declare a prime minister unfit for office.
An expanded panel of 11 judges is conducting the hearing, which began on Thursday morning.
The “recusal law,” an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, limits the circumstances under which a sitting premier can be removed from his position.
“A prime minister can only be removed if he announces he is physically or mentally incapable of fulfilling his duties, or if 75% of Cabinet ministers and 80 Knesset members request that he be removed,” said the law, passed in March.
The law’s explanatory notes state that to remove a sitting prime minister under any other conditions would annul the election results and the democratic process.
On Aug. 6, the High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction against the law, ordering the government to explain why the law should take effect immediately and not after the next Knesset is sworn in.
Petitions against the law were filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, an NGO involved in the anti-judicial reform movement, and opposition party Yisrael Beiteinu.
They argued that the amendment was a “personal law” meant to protect Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the repercussions of violating a 2020 conflict of interest agreement, and is therefore an abuse of the Knesset’s power to pass Basic Laws and illegitimate.
Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has sided with the petitioners and asked the court to invalidate the amendment, marking the first time an Israeli attorney general has come out against a Basic Law.
As Baharav-Miara has refused to represent the government, it has hired attorney Michael Rabello.
In a statement defending the law, Rabello argued that political leaders should only be replaced by the people, and not unelected judges.
“Those sections of Basic Law: The Government dealing with the recusal of a prime minister only referred to physical and mental inability, and that there is no legal foundation for the High Court or the attorney general to recuse a prime minister,” said Rabello.
“The purpose of the amendment was to clarify what was manifest all the time: recusal is a matter of physical or mental incapacitation alone, which if it occurs can only be determined by the prime minister or elected officials,” Rabello said in a statement.
The government has held the position that the court has no authority to weigh in on Basic Laws, given their quasi-constitutional status, a position the court itself held only a short time ago.
Coalition members sharply criticized the court for holding the hearing. Justice Minister Yariv Levin said on Thursday, “The hearing that is being held today in the court is, in practice, a hearing on overturning the election results. No whitewashed name can hide this simple truth.”
“The result of this is that Israel will no longer have democracy, but the rule of people who put themselves above the nation, above the voter’s decision at the ballot box,” he added.
“The court again seeks to interfere, with a complete lack of authority, in a Basic Law. It once again puts itself above the government, above the Knesset, above the people and above the law . This is not democracy.”
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman, another key figure leading the government’s reform program, told Army Radio on Thursday, “
Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate
Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager