YERUSHALAYIM — On Monday afternoon, the Knesset passed the first of the changes sought by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the judiciary. The first bill of the reform, known as the “reasonableness standard” amendment to Basic Law: Judgment, was enacted thanks to the coalition’s 64-seat majority. This amendment restricts the High Court’s ability to strike down executive branch decisions on grounds of being unreasonable.
Despite the controversy, the coalition, commanding a comfortable majority in the Knesset, looked set to win the vote on the bill limiting the High Court’s powers to overrule decisions made by governments and ministers.
The bill passed with a 64-0 majority as the opposition chose to boycott the vote. During the voting on the bill’s second reading, 140 objections were raised, prolonging the process for several hours.
The voting followed an intense 26-hour debate that commenced on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionist Party) provided closing remarks to conclude the lengthy deliberations.
Dramatic scenes unfolded until the very last minute, with negotiations for a compromise ongoing among the lawmakers in the plenum during the voting. President Yitzchak Herzog reportedly spoke on the phone with Shas chairman Rabbi Aryeh Deri at one point, while representatives from the President’s Residence also communicated with Netanyahu. At one juncture, an agreement seemed possible, as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant approached the opposition’s section of the plenum and shook hands with opposition leader MK Yair Lapid and National Unity chairman MK Benny Gantz. However, despite efforts to find common ground, no compromise proposals yielded results, and the bill ultimately passed.
Levin and Rothman strongly refuted the opposition’s claims of the bill’s severe consequences and asserted that the legislation would not undermine individual rights.
Earlier, Levin summed up the debate saying, “In the course of the deliberations on the bill, our friend MK Gilad Kariv (Labor) commissioned a report from the Knesset Research and Information Center to receive data from around the world on the reasonableness standard. I expected this study to receive a great deal of attention, but surprisingly enough, it was completely hushed up by the various media outlets. Despite everything, this study also shows that there is no country in the world and no example in the world of a sweeping reasonableness standard, which replaces completely the discretion of the elected echelon with the discretion of the judges.
“Not only is the use of the reasonableness standard a matter of worldview and not a legal matter, it enables the judge to do something else that has no place in the court: to make a decision that has no reasons and no criteria. Is it reasonable or unreasonable? Based on what, exactly? By what measure? Where is the school for reasonableness in which one can learn what is reasonable? Is there such a place? It’s clear that there isn’t. If there were such a school, I would be the first to sign up for studies. Who wouldn’t want to be a reasonable person like [former High Court President] Aharon Barak?
“But there is no such thing, and there can be no such thing. For reasonableness is a worldview. It’s not contract law, it’s not rules of evidence, it’s not a legal matter. Who said that what is reasonable in the judges’ eyes is the sensible thing to do? Who decided that their personal attitudes are better than those of the ministers?
“I would like to address from here the people who fear this amendment, and say with full responsibility: We are following a very cautious path. We are not abolishing the reasonableness standard, we are reducing its use, in such a way that the worldview of individual judges will not replace the people’s choice. Of course, if the Government or a minister act illegally, without authority, in conflict of interest, in an improper procedure — in all these cases the court can and will be able to intervene.
“I know that an absolute majority of the public wants repairs to the justice system, so a broad consensus can be reached. I hope that the Knesset will vote today in favor of this bill, and will prove that there are legislators in Yerushalayim. I also hope we will know how to take advantage of the months that the Knesset is in recess to sit down for serious talks, directly, without need for mediators, in order to reach a consensus as to the full set of the reform’s components. My door has been and remains open,” said Minister Levin.