Israel’s government announced on Monday that it would attempt to enact by early April the most contentious part of its effort to overhaul the country’s judiciary — a change to the way that judges are appointed — while postponing the implementation of other parts of the plan by at least a month.
The planned change to judicial appointments would allow government picks to form a majority on the powerful nine-member committee that selects judges. That would clear the way for the government to have greater control over appointments to the Supreme Court.
The debate over the judicial overhaul has set off one of the deepest domestic crises in Israeli history, and has become a proxy for wider and older social rifts related to the role of religion in public life and class tensions between Israelis of European and Middle Eastern descent.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have protested every week against the overhaul since the start of the year. The crisis has also set off unrest in the military, spooked investors, and rising criticism from influential Jewish Americans and the Biden administration.
As a concession to critics, the government said that it had tweaked the planned overhaul of judicial selections to include a provision that would prevent more than two Supreme Court justices from being appointed during each parliamentary term without the support of at least one opposition lawmaker on the committee. All judicial appointments to lower courts would also need the backing of at least one opposition lawmaker or judge on the committee.
The governing coalition, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also said that it would delay other parts of the program, including a proposal to limit the court’s oversight over Parliament until at least late April.
Coalition lawmakers presented the changes as major concessions. An earlier version of the plan placed no limits on how many judges could be appointed to the Supreme Court without opposition consent, and some coalition members said that the new plan had given up too much ground.
But opposition leaders and protest organizers said that even the new proposals would still give the government too much control over the judiciary. Critics say that the changes would allow the government of the day to act with too few restraints on its power, endangering minority rights, and perhaps even pave the way for a more authoritarian and religious system of governance.
The government and its mainly religious supporters say that the judiciary needs urgent change to ensure that elected lawmakers have primacy over unelected judges.
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