by Keren Setton
JERUSALEM, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has begun a process of widespread reform in the country's judicial system, stirring up heated debates in the country.
The plan includes legislation that will allow Israel's parliament, the Knesset, to override supreme court decisions by a simple majority. In addition, Knesset members will be given greater representation in the committee that appoints supreme court judges. And legal advisors to ministries, which have been civil servants until now, will be allowed to be political appointments.
Those in favor of the reform say the Israeli judicial system, mainly the supreme court, has become too powerful and often intervenes in political issues outside its jurisdiction.
"What we are seeking to do will restore the balance between the authorities," said Netanyahu at the opening of a cabinet meeting earlier this week. "We will make the necessary changes in the judicial system, prudently and responsibly. We are going to change the system, to save it and not destroy it."
Opponents say the reforms will neutralize the supreme court and undermine Israeli democracy. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against the government plan. Many of the opponents recognize the need for changes, but do not agree with the blanket reforms they say "will leave the country without judicial review or supervision and lead to a regime change."
"The main implication of the reform is giving the coalition majority absolute power without taking minorities, human rights, and the rule of law into consideration," said Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.
"In addition, the rights of the LGBTQ community, women and asylum seekers will be threatened. These, and other minorities, are the populations the supreme court has defended throughout the years," said Fuchs.
Opponents believe the motivation behind the plan is "Netanyahu's wish to extricate himself from his legal troubles." Netanyahu is under trial on several charges of corruption, which he denied.
One of the reforms involves the appointment of an attorney general appointed by the government, Fuchs noted that "I would not be surprised if that attorney would cancel Netanyahu's trial."
Before the allegations surfaced, Netanyahu was a vociferous advocate of the Israeli judicial system.
"In the past, Netanyahu was against such reforms realizing they are destructive," said Yaniv Roznai, vice-dean of Harry Radzyner Law School and co-director of the Rubinstein Center for Constitutional Challenges at Reichman University.
"He is being dragged by the extremist elements in his coalition because of his legal situation, leaving him with little choices," added Roznai.
"The executive branch and the government will have almost unlimited power to act while weakening any checks and balances, including the courts and the legal advisors," Roznai told Xinhua.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog has mediated between the sides in order to find a middle ground. Earlier this week, he met separately with Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut to hear their positions.
"The proposal is so extreme and the opposition to it is so fierce. There is no option other than to reach a compromise, but the government doesn't look to be in that direction," said Roznai.
The Netanyahu government has a solid majority in the Knesset which allows it to legislate rather freely. All members of the coalition appear to be on board with all the changes being proposed.
"We are in the grips of a profound disagreement that is tearing our nation apart. This conflict worries me deeply," read a statement by Herzog on Sunday. ■