The Crisis In The Middle East

Israel Judicial Reform Explained: What is the crisis about?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Constitutional crisis in Israel


Central Idea

  • On July 24, the governing coalition in Israel’s Parliament (Knesset) passed a critical part of its judicial overhaul plan, aimed at curbing the Supreme Court’s oversight powers over government decisions.
  • This has sparked months of protests against the right-religious government’s plans to transform the judiciary.

Judiciary Overhaul: The Crisis Trigger

  • Abolishing the “Reasonability Doctrine”: The Knesset legislation abolishes the “reasonable doctrine” used by the Supreme Court to assess government decisions and ministerial appointments. This doctrine allowed the court to determine the sensibility and fairness of government decisions and nullify them if deemed necessary.
  • Reasonability Doctrine in Other Countries: The reasonability standard is a legal standard used in several countries, including Australia, Canada, and the U.K., by top courts to evaluate government decisions.
  • Criticism and Justification: Supporters of the government argue that the reasonability standard is too abstract and prone to judicial overreach, justifying its removal. They claim that this change will prevent courts from interfering in executive decisions.

Other Proposals in the Overhaul Plan

  • Curbing Judicial Review: The original overhaul plan included proposals to limit judicial review over legislation and empower Parliament to override court decisions with a majority vote of 61 out of 120.
  • Greater Control of Judicial Appointments: The government seeks to replace members of the Bar Association in the nine-member panel responsible for selecting judges with “public representatives” chosen by the government. This change would give the government a majority vote in the committee and more control over judicial appointments.
  • Ministers’ Autonomy from Legal Advisers: Another proposal seeks to remove the legal obligation for Ministers to follow the advice given by their legal advisers, including the Attorney-General’s guidance.

Motivation behind the Overhaul

  • Right-Wing Government’s Agenda: Israel’s current government, composed of right-wing, ultra-Orthodox, and extreme-right parties, aims to strengthen its control over the judiciary. The right-wing leaders have criticized the judiciary for impeding their legislative agenda and settlement expansion in Palestinian territories.
  • Shift in Israel’s Polity: Over the years, Israel’s polity has shifted rightward, while the judiciary remained relatively independent. The right-wing has long advocated for bringing the courts under the Parliament’s ambit.
  • Influence of Think Tank: The Kohelet Policy Forum, a think tank backed by American and Israeli billionaires, has played a significant role in formulating the judicial reforms. Kohelet seeks to advance right-wing policy reforms in Israel and has pushed for the overhaul of the judiciary.

Protests and Concerns

  • Undermining Democracy: Critics, including the Opposition and civil society, argue that the government’s actions are an attempt to undermine Israel’s democracy. They fear that concentrating power within the government, controlled by right-wing and religious parties, could lead to an authoritarian theocracy.
  • Tensions between Liberal and Orthodox Jews: Protests have spread to different groups, including military reservists, amid concerns that religious parties may undermine the courts and empower religious sections.
  • Supreme Court Review: Civil society groups have filed petitions in the Supreme Court challenging the legislation on the reasonability doctrine. The court, facing a constitutional showdown, will review the challenges, even though the law curtails its own powers.


  • The passage of the judicial overhaul plan in Israel’s Knesset has significant implications for the country’s governance and democratic fabric.
  • The concentration of power within the government and curtailing the Supreme Court’s oversight powers has raised concerns about checks and balances.
  • Civil society’s petitions and the Supreme Court’s subsequent decisions will be crucial in determining the future course of Israel’s judiciary and its democratic institutions.

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