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Knesset speaker warns against ‘plunge into abyss,’ shows ‘red light’ to High Court

Ohana’s warning comes before fateful court hearing on basic law

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 6, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset won’t “meekly accept being trampled,” Knesset Speaker and Likud party Knesset Member Amir Ohana warned Israel’s High Court before a potentially fateful ruling next week to nullify the coalition’s Reasonableness Law.

Ohana convened a press conference on Wednesday evening at the Knesset building, ahead of the hearing on petitions against the law, which is part of the government’s judicial reform and prevents the court from negating laws and ministerial decrees based on their “reasonableness.”

A hearing on petitions against the Incapacitation Law which limits the ability to force prime ministers out of office, will follow later.

Both laws are amendments to Basic Laws, which have quasi-constitutional status and have never been voided by the High Court in Israel’s history.

“Israel is at a crossroads, and the need to balance the branches of government is becoming clearer than ever. Tonight, as Knesset speaker, I want to put up a stop sign,” Ohana began his speech.

“From 1967 until today, there has been a process of centralizing power, until it was almost omnipotent, to the higher level [meaning the High Court]. Now, we are facing a new and dangerous junction, which could plunge us into the abyss, with the High Court soon holding discussions on Basic Laws,” he said.

“In a democracy, the people are the sovereign,” Ohana continued. “In a democratic country, the legal system respects the sovereign, the people and their choices, and this respect is mutual. There is not and cannot be a dispute over the question of whether the Knesset authorized the court to invalidate or change fundamental legislation. The legislative authority is vested in the Knesset... a different decision goes against the Knesset and Israeli democracy.”

Ohana closed by stressing, “The Knesset won’t meekly accept being trampled… I suggest to the court that I respect very much, and have always respected - recognize also the limitations of your power, recognize that in a democracy no authority is omnipotent.”

Reactions to Ohana’s statements were unsurprisingly broken down according to the coalition-opposition fault lines.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, one of the main architects of the judicial reform, praised the Knesset speaker’s “courageous” remarks and said he hoped they would find “attentive ears among the judges of the Supreme Court.”

Opposition leader and Yesh Atid party chair Yair Lapid said Ohana’s “disgraceful speech does not represent the Knesset and he does not speak on behalf of the majority of MKs”

“Those who heard him today asked themselves, where they will stop? Why is it so important for them to divide and divide the people? Why is the speaker of the Knesset trying to destroy the Knesset?” Lapid added.

The Kaplan force, one of the major organizations behind the anti-reform protest movement, called Ohana’s remarks a “Mafiosi threat” and a “horror show,” while claiming that Ohana led the Knesset into “criminality.”

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

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