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The highly contentious Reasonableness Standard Bill passed its initial stage in the Knesset Plenum by a vote of 64 to 56. The next step for the bill involves its return to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. This committee is expected to commence preparations for the bill’s second and third reading on Tuesday.

Nationwide Protests Anticipated

Following the passage of the bill, protest organizers have announced plans for numerous demonstrations across the country. If the bill were to advance beyond its first reading, organizers have designated Tuesday as a “Day of Disruption”, with protests planned at multiple locations, including the Ben Gurion International Airport.

Understanding the Reasonableness Standard Bill

The Reasonableness Standard Bill is an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary. This bill proposes to prohibit Israel’s courts from applying the ‘reasonableness standard’ to decisions made by elected officials. The ‘reasonableness standard’ is a legal doctrine permitting judicial review of governmental administrative decisions that are considered beyond the scope of what a sensible and responsible authority should undertake.

Supporters and Critics of the Bill

Supporters argue that the law acts as a highly subjective tool enabling judicial activism, which permits the court to override government policy. Conversely, critics, including the attorney general, maintain that this tool is crucial to combat corruption and safeguard individuals from arbitrary governmental decisions.

Impact of the Bill on Ministerial Appointments

This standard was invoked by the court in January when it ruled against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to assign Shas chairman Aryeh Deri to two ministerial positions, in spite of his three criminal convictions. The court deemed Netanyahu’s decision as “extremely unreasonable,” resulting in Deri’s dismissal. If the bill were to be enacted into law, Netanyahu might attempt to reinstate Deri to his former positions.

Debate Among MKs

During the debate, MK Simcha Rothman, Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, introduced the bill and defended it as “balanced and responsible.” On the other hand, opposition leader MK Yair Lapid voiced criticism, claiming that the law facilitated corruption and hindered freedom of protest.

Proposed Changes to the Judiciary Selection Committee

This bill forms part of a package of laws proposed earlier this year aimed at increasing the power of the government and Knesset at the expense of the judicial system. A key proposal includes changes to the Judicial Selection Committee that would grant the government a majority vote and thus the power to appoint all of Israel’s judges.

Reservist Protests and Government Response

Reservists have echoed concerns over the proposed changes. Some have even threatened to halt their volunteer service if the bill progresses beyond the first reading.

Appeal for Dialogue Amidst Political Crisis

President Isaac Herzog called for dialogue as a solution to the ongoing political crisis. In his speech on Monday, Herzog stressed the importance of unity and encouraged leaders from both the coalition and opposition to engage in constructive discussions.

Determination to Pass the Bill

Despite the protests, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich reaffirmed the coalition’s intention to pass the bill into law by the end of the Knesset’s current term on July 30 during a press conference on Monday.

Understanding the Tensions

Many members of the ruling coalition view the judiciary as excessively interventionist in the political realm, prioritizing minority rights over national interests. Conversely, many Israelis are protesting the bill out of concern for the threat to democracy, fearing potential diplomatic and economic fallout. There is also concern about the bill’s proposed changes due to Israel’s relatively fragile system of “checks and balances”.

Looking Forward

While it is unclear what other changes are planned, the proposed bill has certainly stirred up tension, uncertainty, and a call for responsible justice reforms.

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