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Likud voters just handed Netanyahu a mandate to remake the judicial system

In its first primary since 2019, Likud voters on Wednesday delivered party leader Benjamin Netanyahu an early election present: a list that can bring his judicial reform dreams to fruition.

Netanyahu’s calls to retool the justice system accelerated in a 2015 bid to muzzle the Supreme Court’s check on the Knesset. That same year, police investigations into then-prime minister Netanyahu’s alleged corruption also heated up, culminating in an ongoing trial for three graft cases. Netanyahu maintains his innocence and claims the charges are the result of politically motivated police, politicians and a leftist media, enabled by a weak attorney general.

As Likud’s primary results rolled in on Thursday, it became clear that some of the party’s loudest voices against the justice system and law enforcement were catapulted to the top of the list. The pattern was so pronounced that The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, Zman Yisrael, called the slate “the Yair Netanyahu list,” after the prime minister’s vocal son, influential both on Twitter and with his father.

Leading the list behind Netanyahu is his consigliere Yariv Levin, the Likud’s judicial reform policymaker. In July, Levin said that he planned to “end rule by judges.”

In the past, Levin has supported a bill to enable a simple majority of 61 MKs to reinstate a law invalidated by the Supreme Court. Such a superseding clause would effectively neuter the court’s check on legislative power.

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Since 1995’s so-called constitutional revolution, the Supreme Court has exercised its discretion to invalidate laws it judged as violating Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, and later, to laws violating human rights.

Likud party member Yariv Levin arrives to cast his vote in the Likud primaries, at a polling station in Tel Aviv on August 10, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Levin has also said that he wants to curtail the attorney general’s role, making the position advisory to the government, rather than decision-making.

Former justice and public safety minister Amir Ohana, voter pick number five, and David Amsalem, number four, further underscore this stacked deck.

As a new justice minister in 2019, Ohana drew justices’ ire for saying that not all Supreme Court decisions needed to be enforced, a statement he later walked back. In 2020, Ohana picked fights with the police force he oversaw for not sufficiently cracking down on protesters outside of then-prime minister Netanyahu’s door.

Amsalem spent the past year in the opposition railing against the Supreme Court, calling justices “detached” from society, and ultimately introducing legislation to transfer judicial appointments from a professional-political committee to political echelons.

Further down the list, MKs Yoav Kisch in spot six and Shlomo Karhi at number 12 attacked the independence of the attorney general last month, saying they would swap her out if she made a politically unpalatable decision.

A cardboard cutout of Amir Ohana awaits voters in the Likud primaries at a polling station in Ashdod on August 10, 2022. (Flash90)

The significance wasn’t lost upon political allies as well. Judicial Selection Committee member and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman told Ynet that Likud voters chose candidates who support curtailing the Supreme Court’s power.

“The Likud’s elected list is a significant boost in the fight to strengthen the justice system and I am sure that in the upcoming elections the public will vote in favor of reforming the justice system,” Rothman said on Thursday of the election results.

“Likud voters got it,” he added. “Every issue in the country goes through the judicial system.”

In May, United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Pindrus was filmed saying that his dream would be to “blow up” the Supreme Court. While understood to be hyperbole, some of the reform camp’s suggestions would fundamentally alter the character of Israel’s highest court.

Netanyahu’s centrist political rival and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has conducted a months-long courtship with UTJ leader Moshe Gafni, hanging perhaps farfetched hopes on being able to lure his party away from its Likud covenant. Netanyahu’s newly-minted judicial reform roster might be another sweetener to encourage Gafni to stay the right-religious course.