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Top rabbis imply government wouldn’t have to obey potential court rulings against it

Senior religious Zionist rabbis appeared to argue Wednesday that the government and the coalition will not be obliged to obey a potential High Court of Justice ruling against them, as several high-profile cases loomed that may herald a constitutional showdown between Israel’s branches of government.

The 14 rabbis, representing the more hardline flank of the religious Zionist community, published an open letter days ahead of crucial hearings on petitions — against the reasonableness law, which is the first bill of the judicial overhaul package that has passed, and against Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee in its current form.

“The only authority in the country is the majority, as reflected in elections, the Knesset and the government,” the rabbis wrote. “There is no other state authority above them.” Advocates of the judicial overhaul legislation often argue that court rulings against the government overturn the will of the majority.

The rabbis also noted the need to take the minority into consideration, urging “the entire public in the country to behave responsibly and try to reach an agreement that enables every person to run their lives without any coercion and in accordance with the values of the Nation of Israel over the generations.”

The rabbis — some of them affiliated with the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit coalition parties — include Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel; Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern; Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu; and prominent rabbis Dov Lior, Elyakim Levanon, Yaakov Shapira and Zalman Melamed.

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The letter was released as President Isaac Herzog renewed efforts to reach a compromise deal between the coalition and opposition on judicial reform, with the country facing a potential constitutional crisis ahead of the High Court hearing on the reasonableness law next week.

File: Negev and the Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf of the Otzma Yehudit party (right) with Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu at an official Memorial Day ceremony at Safed Military Cemetery on April 25, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The first overhaul law prohibits the courts from reviewing government action using the judicial standard of reasonableness, whereby it had been able to determine that a decision was invalid because it was made without properly assessing key considerations, or while using improper considerations.

The petitioners against the law argue that it could potentially undermine the independence of senior law enforcement agencies since without the reasonableness standard it will be difficult to challenge arbitrary dismissals of officials.

The High Court is set to hear petitions against the law on September 12, with all 15 justices hearing the case — the first time in Israel’s history a law has been reviewed by the full bench.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not committed to respecting the court’s judgment on the case.

The law is the only component of the coalition’s broader judicial overhaul program that the Knesset has passed. Like other parts of the radical reform agenda, it has faced massive and intense opposition from protest groups and opposition parties.

On September 19, the High Court will also hear petitions against Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, as he seeks to first change the panel’s composition in order to give the government control over judicial appointments.

Levin has until September 10 to file his response to those petitions.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.