Controversial judicial law passes first vote in Israel


Bill weakening the Supreme Court passes first reading, alongside a bill that would protect the prime minister from removal and another that would allow more settlements in northern Israel.

Israel’s parliament has introduced a bill that would allow it to overturn Supreme Court rulings and pass laws that had been struck down, despite months of protests.

It took the Knesset until the early hours of Tuesday morning to approve the bill’s first reading, which was one of the top priorities of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governing coalition of far-right and ultra-Orthodox religious parties.

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Late Monday night, in another victory for Netanyahu, parliament also introduced a bill that would make it more difficult to impeach the prime minister over the corruption charges still hanging over him.

The bill would allow parliament to declare a prime minister unfit to govern merely for physical or mental reasons and would replace the current law which opens the door to removing a leader under other circumstances.

Another bill passed in first reading would allow for more settlements in the occupied northern West Bank, leading to the legalization of settlement outposts considered illegal even under Israeli law.

The vote comes just weeks after Israeli settlers ravaged a Palestinian town last month, killing one man and setting dozens of homes and cars on fire.

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Settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are already considered illegal under international law.

The bills voted on overnight require additional votes before they become law.

The moves were the latest in a series of moves by Netanyahu’s coalition to change Israel’s legal system.

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The prime minister and his allies say the effort is aimed at curbing an activist court.

Critics say the move would disrupt the country’s checks and balances and concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary majority.

Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist and religious allies have vowed to push through with the law changes despite demonstrations by tens of thousands of Israeli protesters over the past two months.

Business leaders, legal experts and retired military leaders have joined the protests, and Israeli reservists have threatened to stop reporting if the change goes through.

The new bill would need to be approved by three-quarters of the government and could be overruled by the prime minister.

The proposed change to the rules governing the impeachment of a prime minister is of personal concern to Netanyahu, who returned to power late last year following Israel’s fifth election in less than four years.

He faces charges of fraud, breach of trust and taking bribes, and has denied the charges.

The proceedings have been dragging on for almost three years.

Good governance groups and other critics have called on the country’s attorney general to deem Netanyahu unfit for office.

Speaking to members of his Likud party on Monday, Netanyahu lashed out at the Israeli media, saying they are broadcasting a “never-ending tsunami of fake news” against him.

He reiterated his claim that the law changes will strengthen Israeli democracy.

Opposition member Orna Barbivai said the bill was “a disgrace, because the prime minister is above the law”.

Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the population, were largely absent from the protests, in part because they face discrimination in Israel and because of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and blockaded Gaza Strip.

At least 70 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis this year under Israel’s new government, many of them during Israeli military raids.

It brings the total number of Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank in the past year to more than 220.

More than 40 Israelis and foreigners have been killed in attacks by Palestinians during the same period.

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