By Enyichukwu Enemanna
The Supreme Court of Israel on Monday struck down a contentious law approved last July by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government which seeks to overhaul the country’s judicial laws.
The attempted judicial overhaul by Netanyahu’s right wing parliamentary coalition sparked months of mass protests, threatened to trigger a constitutional crisis between the judicial and legislative arms of government.
Netanyahu and his allies announced their overhaul plan shortly after taking office a year ago.
It calls for curbing the power of the judges, including by limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to review parliamentary decisions and changing the way judges are appointed.
Supporters said the changes aim to strengthen democracy by circumscribing the authority of unelected judges and turning over more powers to elected officials.
Opponents see the overhaul as a power grab by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, and an assault on a key watchdog.
Critics have accused Netanyahu of attempts to change the courts and erode minority rights, make it harder to fight official corruption and pave the way for the annexation of the West Bank.
In a statement posted on the social media site X, Israel’s Supreme Court said the 15 justices decided on a narrow 8-7 majority in favor of revoking the change.
A larger majority of 12 justices ruled that Israel’s Supreme Court had the authority to overrule the change.
The court held that the overhaul if permitted would cause “severe and unprecedented harm to the core characteristics of Israel as a democratic state,” the court wrote.
“The idea was to remove the checks and balances, which were very poor to begin with, and permit any government legislation,” said Noa Sattath, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and an opponent of the changes, in a recent interview with NPR.
After the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, Netanyahu suspended efforts to change the country’s judiciary.
On Monday, Netanyahu’s Likud party said the ruling was against the will of the people at a time of war.
This summer, Netanyahu’s right-wing political partners had suggested they might challenge the legitimacy of the court if it overturned the law, which would set up a potential constitutional crisis in Israel.
As the war with Hamas continues in Gaza, Monday’s court decision further complicates Netanyahu’s tenure as Prime Minister.
In interviews this summer, he would not commit to accepting the court’s decision should it overturn the law.
It is unclear whether the government will seek to make further changes to the judiciary’s powers following this ruling.
The Israel Democracy Institute, a research group that works to bolster democratic institutions, praised the decision, calling it “important and precedent-setting.”
“Now more than ever, while our sons and daughters are on the front lines fighting for their country, it is critical that they know that Israeli democracy is strong and unassailable,” the Institute said in a statement.