Israel greenlights controversial judicial reform despite opposition

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Jerusalem: Israel’s parliament voted on Tuesday to advance Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contentious plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary, despite widespread public opposition.

After a stormy debate, the first two bills of the judicial reform passed in a first, non-binding reading, reports Xinhua news agency.

Out of the 120 seats in Parliament, 63 lawmakers voted in favour of the bills, 47 against, and 10 were absent.

Members of Netanyahu’s new ultra-religious and ultranationalist coalition government celebrated the outcome.

“A great night and a great day,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter after the vote.

The first bill would alter the composition of the nine-member committee that appoints judges, limiting the influence of legal professionals and giving the government an outright majority.

If approved, the law would enable the government to choose judges.

The other bill would eliminate the Supreme Court’s authority to cancel basic laws passed by Parliament, even if they are unconstitutional.

The vote means the ruling coalition could now bring the two bills for the final second and third readings in Parliament, after which they will become laws, kick-starting the reform.

Opposition members warned that the bills will weaken the legal system and politicize it.

Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition, criticized the coalition on Twitter, saying: “Members of the coalition — history will judge you for this night for the damage to democracy, for the damage to the economy, for the damage to security, for the fact that you are tearing the people of Israel apart and you simply do not care.”

The divisive reform has also sparked a massive uproar in Israeli society.

Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied outside the parliament in Jerusalem on Monday as the votes began. They held flags of Israel and chanted “Democracy!”

A major concern of the protesters is that the reform will concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu.

The longest-serving leader of Israel is facing a criminal trial over corruption charges and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has warned his involvement in the proposed reform puts him in a conflict of interest.

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( With inputs from www.siasat.com )

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