Israel’s Supreme Court has started hearing petitions against a new law making it harder to declare a prime minister unfit for office.
Eleven of the 15 Supreme Court judges were hearing Thursday’s arguments. Within two months, the court would have heard arguments on three cases that challenge laws passed by the Benjamin Netanyahu government this year.
Thursday’s petition, however, affects Netanyahu most personally.
The law states that only the prime minister himself or the cabinet, with a two-thirds majority, can declare the leader unfit, and only “due to physical or mental incapacity.”
The cabinet vote would then need to be ratified by a two-thirds majority in the parliament, known as the Knesset. The amendment is a change to one of Israel’s Basic Laws, the closest thing the country has to a constitution.
The amendment was passed before legislation started on a judicial overhaul package, pushed by Netanyahu’s right-wing government, that has split the country and led to months of protests by those who argue that it chips away at Israel’s democracy and weakens its judiciary.
The petitioners in Thursday’s hearing argue the amendment was passed solely for Netanyahu’s benefit – he faces an ongoing corruption trial – making it a “misuse of constituent authority.”
That’s one of the bases on which the Supreme Court can, in theory, strike down amendments to a Basic Law. However, the court has never struck down a Basic Law or an amendment to one.
Yiktzhak Burt, a lawyer arguing on behalf of the Knesset, conceded to the Supreme Court Thursday that the law in question did benefit the prime minister personally, but insisted that the legislature had the power to pass it because it has a democratic mandate and that the court should not strike it down. He acknowledged that the law had flaws, but that they did not rise to such a level that it should be struck down.