JERUSALEM – Israel’s Parliament voted into law on Monday contested curbs on some Supreme Court powers submitted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
The Bill passed by a 64-0 vote, after opposition lawmakers abandoned the Knesset plenum in protest.
The chances to reach a compromise had appeared slim as lawmakers began voting.
“You cannot reach agreements that safeguard Israel’s democracy with this government,” opposition leader Yair Lapid told Israeli television channels at the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, minutes before the hours-long vote began.
Washington had urged Mr Netanyahu to reach a compromise with the opposition, while his hardline coalition partners pushed for legislation to go ahead, with more judicial changes to follow.
The crisis has spread to the military, with protest leaders saying thousands of volunteer reservists would not report for duty if the government continues with the plans, and former top brass warning that Israel’s war readiness could be at risk.
“We’re on our way to a disaster,” Mr Lapid told lawmakers during the stormy debate. “If you vote for this Bill, you will weaken the state of Israel, the people of Israel and the Israel Defence Forces.”
It would be the first change written into law from a package that critics fear aims to curb judicial independence, but which Mr Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges he denies – insists are needed for balance among branches of government.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who has been driving the changes, defended the Bill, which would amend a law enabling the Supreme Court to void decisions it deems “unreasonable”.
“There’s no reason to fear this amendment. There are many reasons to see it as an important step towards restoring balance between the branches of government as respecting voters’ choice,” said Mr Levin.
Mr Netanyahu’s coalition has been determined to push back against what it describes as over-reach by a Supreme Court that it says has become too politically interventionist.
Critics say Monday’s amendment has been rushed through Parliament and will open the door to abuses of power by removing one of the few effective checks on the executive’s authority in a country without a formal written Constitution.
The government announced its judicial plans in January, soon after it was sworn in, stirring concern among allies abroad for Israel’s democratic health and denting the economy.
Israel’s two biggest banks, Leumi and Hapoalim, said they would allow workers to demonstrate on Monday without losing pay.
A forum of some 150 of Israel’s largest companies went on strike, and Azrieli and Big, two of Israel’s largest malls, said stores in their shopping centres would remain closed. REUTERS
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