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Israel’s Netanyahu says most controversial part of judicial overhaul legislation ‘not coming back’

<i>Nir Elias/Reuters</i><br/>Netanyahu's proposed reforms incited several weeks of protests.
Nir Elias/Reuters
Netanyahu's proposed reforms incited several weeks of protests.

By Alex Stambaugh and Hadas Gold, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the most controversial aspect of his government’s proposed judicial reform, a provision allowing the national legislature, the Knesset, to overturn Supreme Court rulings, has been dropped and will not be returning.

Pressed on whether the provision to allow a “supermajority” in the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions was also now excluded, Netanyahu responded, “I said that it’s out.”

A supermajority would be greater than a simple parliamentary majority, but no specific margin was included in the government’s proposals.

“I’m attentive to the public pulse, and to what I think will pass muster,” Netanyahu said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, published Thursday.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu indicated in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that his government was considering backing down from the controversial aspect of the proposal.

“We cannot move the pendulum from one side – the most activist judicial branch on the planet … to the other side, where you would have the parliament essentially overriding with a simple majority the decisions of the Supreme Court,” Netanyahu told Zakaria.

Initial plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system had sparked widespread protests and fueled fears that the overhaul would strip away powers of the country’s judiciary. Another protest is planned for next week.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets across the country earlier this year to protest the proposed changes, which many felt threatened Israel’s democratic foundations.

The change would have been the most significant shakeup to Israel’s judiciary since its founding in 1948. Israel has no written constitution, only a set of quasi-constitutional basic laws, making the Supreme Court even more powerful. But Israel also has no check on the power of the Knesset other than the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu and his supporters argued that the Supreme Court has become an insular, elitist group that does not represent the Israeli people. They argued the Supreme Court has overstepped its role, getting into issues it should not rule on.

Critics said Netanyahu was pushing the overhaul forward because of his own ongoing corruption trial, where he faces charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing.

His opponents also said the initially proposed overhaul would have gone too far, and would have completely destroyed the only avenue available to provide checks and balances to the Israeli legislative branch.

Netanyahu has defended the overhaul plans, telling Zakaria earlier that “The big challenge is to bring it back to a balance that is accepted in most democracies… without going to the side that would indeed remove checks and balances on the power of the majority.”

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