UPDATE on Judicial Reform Controversy in Israel


Between January and March 2023, the Israeli government made headlines all over the world for its controversial judicial reform legislature, designed to place restrictions on a Supreme Court seen by many as partisan and interventionist. The legislature sparked widespread protests throughout Israel over concerns that the reform would take the government too far in the opposite direction – in other words, instead of an interventionist court, Israel would have a crippled court, subject to the whims of possibly extremist politicians. Ultimately, the protests led to the pausing of the legislation and the beginning of a bipartisan attempt to reach a compromise.

Current Situation:

Following the failure of the compromise talks at the end of June, the government resumed the process of legislation. They already approved in a parliamentary committee vote the first draft of a bill which would weaken the so-called “reasonableness clause,” a legal provision inherited from the British Mandatory Government (1919-1948) and modified by Israel’s judicial system over time to allow the SC to strike down legislature deemed “extremely unreasonable.” Proponents of the reform consider this precedent too subjective, while those in favor of retaining the current system say the clause is a necessary “check and balance” on the government.

After this bill passed its first reading, protests began heating up again all over Israel. So far, they have not reached the proportions they did last time, but unfortunately have seen more violence, especially by police. Right-wing supporters of the reform are also likely to protest in its favor this time around, adding to the polarization and chaos.

Concerns and Takeaways:

There are two serious concerns for the Israeli public right now. Firstly, who is really leading the government? To many, it seems that despite being Prime Minister, Netanyahu is less in control than his extremist political allies. They are, at the very least, allowed too much room to encourage extremism and in the worst-case scenario are twisting the PM’s arm into aligning with their extreme policy goals. This came into focus again last week after a Netanyahu interview was published in the Wall Street Journal in which he stated that certain controversial elements of the reform would be scrapped. His words ignited fury on the right and scepticism on the left.

MK Kahana from the opposition said in an interview, “Let’s hear him say that in Hebrew,” meaning that Netanyahu’s messaging abroad and at home are very different. On the other hand, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tweeted his disapproval of the PM’s compromise, saying that the current government was elected to bring “meshilut v’shinui,” or in English, “governance and change.” The word “meshilut,” although technically translated as “governance,” holds connotations of authoritarianism for many, especially coming from a person known for extremism.

A second major concern is the continued polarization of the population as a result of differing views on the reform. It is an issue that has become deeply personal for many Israelis on both sides of the aisle who truly feel that Israel’s democracy is on the line. With high stakes and emotions running high as well, the wedge is being driven deeper into an already deeply-divided society. Many moderate Israelis are extremely disturbed by the lack of united leadership at a time when Israel is facing numerous other challenges.

Prayer Requests:

Please continue to pray for unity in Israel. Please pray for Israeli leaders to focus on what really matters. Lastly, as Israel continues to face many security challenges, please continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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