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After long tense debate, Knesset passes first reading of ‘reasonableness standard’ bill

Protest groups call for ‘Day of Disruption’ in response

A discussion and a vote on the reasonableness bill at the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, July 10, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli Knesset passed the first reading of the Reasonableness Standard Bill with a 64-56 vote on Monday.

The next step will be a return of the same bill to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday, in preparation for a second and third reading.

Even with the first reading passed, it is still possible to make changes to the proposed bill during the committee's next meeting, and those changes will be included in the second and third readings before the Knesset.

The Netanyahu-led coalition government hopes to pass the bill – an amendment to 'Basic Law: Judiciary' – before the end of the Knesset’s current session on July 30.

The reasonableness standard is a legal doctrine the Israeli High Court has used in the past in order to allow judicial review of government administrative decisions.

Opponents of the bill say that its passing would take away the court's ability to counter government corruption and arbitrary government decisions.

Proponents of the bill say that it will prevent that same court from undermining the policies of elected government officials.

Prior to the vote, Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair, Knesset Member Simcha Rothman, read off a list of judges and academics who have argued that the reasonableness standard gives the court too much power. Rothman also argued that the bill would return Israel to the legal situation which existed during the first several decades of its existence.

The most recent use of the reasonableness standard for judicial review happened earlier this year, when the Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Shas party head Aryeh Deri violated the reasonableness standard because it was in contradiction to Deri’s previous plea bargain against tax offenses.

Netanyahu removed Deri from his ministerial positions in January, following the court’s ruling.

After the first reading of the bill passed the Knesset vote, opposition leader Yair Lapid accused the coalition of passing the bill to return Deri to his ministerial positions and to help Netanyahu with his own legal difficulties.

“At least tell the truth. This law enables the appointment of a convicted minister; a law that enables the sending out of arrest warrants to whoever protests against the government; this is a law that enables the firing of the attorney general, in order to arrange a plea-bargain for your boss,” Lapid said in response to Rothman.

Shortly before voting began to pass the Reasonableness Standard Bill, Knesset ushers forcibly removed several protesters from the Knesset floor. The demonstrators appeared to be deliberately attempting to block the entrance to the Knesset forum and refused to move.

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana spoke out against Knesset members who knowingly invited the protesters to demonstrate and praised the Knesset guards for their service.

“The members of the Knesset who invited the rioters in should conduct some deep soul-searching over their attempt to disrupt the democratic process,” Ohana said, vowing that he will not allow the Knesset to become like the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, a reference to the crowds of demonstrators who have been blocking traffic and causing disturbances in the busy city center.

Following the announcement of the bill’s passing, protest groups called for a “Day of Disruption” on Tuesday, with protests expected to take place across the country, including at the Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog issued a call on Monday for the coalition and opposition to return to the negotiating table.

“In the midst of a deep and worrisome crisis, the responsible act of leadership must be to sit, talk, and put Israel's unity above all else. Public leaders – from the coalition and opposition – must talk and heal the schism. And this needs to happen now,” Herzog said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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