In a direct challenge to its legislative oversight, the High Court of Justice of Israel on Thursday will consider petitions seeking to overturn a contentious government legislation, known as the recusal law. Critics argue that the law is a strategic maneuver to keep Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power, despite ongoing corruption charges and a conflict of interest agreement he signed in 2020.
The law and its implications serve to highlight the escalating power struggle between Netanyahu’s coalition and the judiciary, further dividing Israeli society.
Exploring the Matter of the Recusal Law
Enacted in March, the recusal law posits that the power to declare the Prime Minister incapacitated and demand his recusal is solely the prerogative of the government and the Knesset, based only on medical grounds. The law requires a formidable backing from 75 percent of cabinet ministers and 80 lawmakers in the 120-member parliament.
According to its critics, this law appears tailored to shield Netanyahu from any demand for his recusal, due to the conflict of interest agreement linked to his corruption trial. The petitioners therefore have urged the court to disqualify the law as an exploitation of the Knesset’s power to institute Basic Laws.
The Players in the Legal Tug-of-War
The petitions challenging the recusal law have been filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the Yisrael Beytenu party. In the aftermath of the hearing, expected to unfold over several hours, a verdict will be penned and eventually publicized by mid-January.
A senior coalition figure hinted that if the law is overturned, the government might consider revising and re-enacting the law to bypass any delay. This reflects the apprehensions harbored by some coalition members that the High Court or Attorney General Baharav-Miara might demand Netanyahu to step back due to his evident conflict of interest.
The Legal Quagmire Boiling Down to Thursday's Hearing
The High Court must thread the needle of constitutional integrity, since the law represents an amendment to the Basic Law: The Government, one of Israel's crucial quasi-constitutional Basic Laws. Striking down such an amendment can pose considerable constitutional challenges.
The court is expected to contemplate a delay in implementing the law until a new Knesset assumes office, a recommendation advocated by Baharav-Miara. Adopting such an approach could stem the disputed aspect of the law, which Baharav-Miara and petitioners claim is designed to protect Netanyahu.
Netanyahu's Defense Against the Petition
Countering the petition, Netanyahu's lawyer, Michael Rabello, proclaimed that the law reinforces the democratic principle that the people alone should determine their leader. He argued that any recusal dictated by the High Court or the attorney general would undermine the democratic foundations, and the legislation only reaffirms this belief.
Thursday's Hearing and the Ongoing Judicial Drama
Thursday's hearing, supervised by an 11-justice panel and two conservative justices, David Mintz and Noam Sohlberg, forms a crucial part of a courtroom drama series of major legal clashes affecting Israeli politics.
This development significantly marks the second courtroom drama this month, preceded by the explosive 15-justice panel in early September. There, another pivotal confrontation between the government and the judiciary explored the government's contentious "reasonableness" law limiting judicial oversight over administrative government decisions.
A third key legal battle looms on the horizon next month when the High Court will hold a hearing on Justice Minister Yariv Levin's refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee.
As the saga continues over the recusal law and its potential impact on Prime Minister Netanyahu's political career, the Israeli nation watches, waiting for the next chapter in this judicial drama to unfold.