ibaum2_ Amir LevyGetty Images_israel Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israel’s Judicial Coup-in-Waiting

Escalating public protests and mounting international pressure have forced Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to pause his judicial overhaul. But while opposition and coalition members are trying to work out a compromise, Netanyahu and his extremist partners are mobilizing for the next round.

TEL AVIV – Within three months, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has managed to turn his best-ever electoral showing into Israel’s worst nightmare. Twelve consecutive weeks of growing protests have forced Netanyahu to pause his judicial revolution and call on opposition leaders to negotiate a compromise at President Isaac Herzog’s residence. But while the protests have staved off a constitutional crisis, Netanyahu’s decision amounts to a reprieve until the Knesset’s summer session begins, not a retreat.

Netanyahu’s coalition has persisted in advancing its plan to weaken the judiciary, despite escalating street protests and a growing stream of warnings from business leaders, economists, and tech entrepreneurs. Even foreign heads of state, including UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron, have expressed concerns. In a rare public rebuke, US President Joe Biden warned Netanyahu that he “cannot continue down this road.”

Yet Netanyahu vowed to press ahead. By the end of the Knesset’s winter session in late March, the coalition was poised to pass two major amendments to the country’s Basic Laws that would have given the executive branch exorbitant powers. One amendment aimed to provide the coalition with complete control over the appointment of judges, including Supreme Court justices, removing the only check on the executive branch that exists within the Israeli system. The other measure would have abolished judicial review of Basic Laws, enabling the coalition to curtail civil and human rights with a simple majority.

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