MODIIN, Israel –
Scores of Israeli protesters on Monday flooded the streets outside the home of Israel’s justice minister, the architect of the country’s divisive judicial overhaul, a day before the Supreme Court hears a crucial case against the curbing of its powers.
Israeli police said they arrested six people in the central Israeli town of Modiin, home to Justice Minister Yariv Levin, on charges of disrupting public order and blocking roads as they protested plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government to weaken the Supreme Court. The judicial plan has triggered one of the biggest domestic crises in Israeli history and exposed the country’s bitter divides.
On Tuesday, all 15 of Israel’s Supreme Court justices will appear on the bench for the first time ever to hear an appeal against the first major part of the overhaul, which the the government pushed through parliament in July.
The rowdy crowd of roughly 200 demonstrators outside Levin’s home blew horns, chanted through megaphones against the government and brandished signs, jostling with police who pushed back the crowds. After a few hours, Levin left his besieged home in a sleek black car surrounded by police officers and security guards who tried to clear a path for him through the swarm of protesters.
Further demonstrations are expected this week as the Supreme Court hears petitions Tuesday by rights groups and individuals calling it to strike down the law passed by parliament that cancels the court’s ability to block government actions and appointments using the legal concept that they are “unreasonable.”
The hearings put the country’s top justices in the unprecedented position of defending their own independence and ruling on their own fate.
The court faces massive public pressure to strike down the law and has an inherent interest in preserving its powers and independence. But if it does so, Netanyahu’s government could ignore the ruling, setting the stage for a crisis over who has ultimate authority.
Levin, a Netanyahu ally who has spearheaded the overhaul, argued in interviews with local media last week against proposals to seek a compromise with the opposition and soften the current judicial changes.
Critics of the overhaul describe it as a blow to democracy, arguing that Israel’s judiciary represents the primary check on the powers of the prime minister and his majority coalition in parliament. They also say the prime minister has a conflict of interest trying to change the legal system at a time when he is on trial for corruption charges.
Supporters of Netanyahu’s far-right, ultra-Orthodox government say the law will prevent liberal, unelected judges from interfering with the decisions of elected lawmakers. They also say the court should not be able to rule on a law limiting its own authority.