RAMALLAH: Israel’s far-right government faced a new barrage of criticism on Thursday over its extremist policies, in particular its plans to curb the independence of the judiciary.
Hundreds of lawyers took part in a protest rally outside a court in Tel Aviv, 11 former senior judicial officials signed an open letter saying they were “shocked” by the proposed reforms, and the influential S&P agency warned that divisive actions by the government were a threat to the country’s AA- sovereign credit rating.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin wants to hand more powers to members of parliament in appointing judges, whoare currently nominated by an independent panel, and to allow the Knesset to annul a Supreme Court decision with a simple majority.
The proposed reforms are widely viewed as a “get out of jail” card for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption. If, as expected, his case ends up in the Supreme Court, the reforms would enable the Knesset — which Netanyahu’s far-right coalition controls — to overturn that court’s ruling.
Lawyer Orna Sher, 66, one of the protesters in Tel Aviv, said the reforms were “dangerous” and “a threat to democracy.” She said: “The nomination of judges will be political. Courts won’t be independent, but controlled by politicians.” Another protester, Bruria Lekner, said the plans were “destruction and a regression.”
In their open letter, the 11 former state attorneys and attorney generals said: “We call on the government to retract the plan it published and prevent the severe damage to the court system and the rule of law.”
S&P global ratings director Maxim Rybnikov, the main credit analyst for Israel, said the agency was closely following the proposed judicial reforms, as well as new moves by Israel against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
“If the announced judicial system changes set a trend for a weakening of Israel’s institutional arrangements and existing checks and balances, this could in the future present downside risks to the ratings,” he said. “The primary concern for us would be the ... security situation, which could be undermined by more hard-line policies.”
In the latest attack on Palestinians, the Knesset has given initial approval to a draft law that would revoke the Israeli citizenship or residency rights of anyone convicted of carrying out an attack.
Senior Palestinian sources said the US was working quietly with Palestinians and the Israeli government to prevent further action that could undermine the Palestinian Authority.