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Coalition heads, Knesset speaker: High Court lacks authority to deliberate Basic Laws

Sep 17, 2023

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Sunday’s events as they happen.

Senior figures at a right-wing think tank that is behind a significant chunk of the government’s judicial overhaul plans have begun reaching out to ministers and MKs to convince them to indefinitely halt any further legislation, Channel 12 news reports.

The report says not everyone at the Kohelet Policy Forum was calling to immediately suspend the judicial shakeup. Those who are reportedly in favor of doing so believe the government should instead focus on less contentious matters, believing the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

“We need to stop because the nation is completely divided, the army has been harmed and society is hurting,” the latter group is said to argue.

According to the report, which doesn’t cite a source, some of the Kohelet figures voiced tough criticism of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, charging he took an uncompromising stance in talks that hurt the prospects of enacting broader change to the judicial system.

The network notes it’s unclear when members of Kohelet, which declined to comment, began their outreach if and it was before or after the decision last week by an American billionaire who is a leading donor to the institute to stop funding it.

Around 1,000 people gather at Habima Square in Tel Aviv this evening to protest the police response to soaring violent crime in Arab communities, which has claimed 140 lives this year alone.

Over 30 left-wing organizations are participating in the march, which started around 7:30 p.m. and continued to the Tel Aviv Museum.

At the front of the march, demonstrators are carrying 140 coffins, marking the number of those killed in homicides since the start of 2023. Many protesters are dressed in white to commemorate the victims.

Playing off of the Talmudic proverb a banner reading “responsible for one another” greets the demonstrators at the march’s conclusion.

“In Israel, there is a strong and professional police force. If it wanted to, it could defeat crime in Arab society, but it doesn’t want to,” says Ta’al party chairman Ahmad Tibi, speaking at the protest.

“When it wants to, it succeeds in Netanya, Nahariya and Tel Aviv in defeating crime, but the government relates to Arab communities as a backyard. When Arabs murder other Arabs, it hasn’t moved the government in past years, especially not this one,” he adds.

Opposition figures rail at coalition leaders for claiming the High Court has no authority to invalidate Basic Laws, accusing them of seeking to intimidate the justices as they weigh petitions against two contentious pieces of legislation.

“What the government has recently legislated are not Basic Laws but rather hasty, negligent and anti-democratic laws that were called ‘Basic Laws’ without any basis or judicial justification,” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid charges.

He calls for the government to pass laws with “broad consensus, in a proper process, without corrupt personal motives behind them.”

National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, a former justice minister, accuses coalition heads of issuing a “mafioso threat” against the court, “in an attempt to dictate the verdict to the justices.”

“The majority of the nation opposes this thuggishness altogether,” he adds.

TEHRAN, Iran — Three Iranian police officers were killed today and 11 other people injured when several buildings collapsed in the capital Tehran, local media says.

The policemen were securing the planned demolition of “unauthorized buildings” in southwest Tehran, ISNA news agency reports.

It says that while attempting the demolition of the first building, five others collapsed.

The incident “caused the death of two policemen,” ISNA reports, later saying a third officer died.

Operations are underway to “find other people trapped under the rubble,” ISNA says.

The report quotes a police statement saying the buildings that collapsed did not comply “with construction safety measures.”

Echoing Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, party leaders in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition put out a statement arguing the High Court of Justice has no authority to strike down Basic Laws or delay when they take effect.

The latter point comes after the justices demanded Netanyahu and the Knesset explain why legislation preventing him from being ordered to recuse himself — which was passed as a Basic Law — not take effect at a later date rather than immediately.

“Neither does any court have the power to cancel the election results or enable a prime minister’s removal by recusal,” the coalition chiefs charge in a statement from Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s spokesperson.

VIENNA — The far-right Alternative for Germany has declared the European Union a “failed project” in its current form as it adopts its program for next June’s European Parliament election at its party convention in the eastern city of Magdeburg, the German news agency dpa reports.

The text states that the EU has “completely failed” in all important areas, including its migration and climate policy, and it rejects the Euro as a currency.

However, the party stopped short of demanding Germany’s exit from the EU. Instead, the AfD is calling for the EU to be re-founded as a “federation of European nations,” dpa reports.

According to the election program, the main tasks of the new federation should be the protection of external borders against migration, strategic autonomy in security policy, and the preservation of “different identities” in Europe.

Recent polls put support for the AfD at 19-22%, behind only the main conservative opposition bloc. AfD candidates recently won elections in eastern Germany to lead a county administration for the first time since the 1930s and now holds the mayoralty in a town with a population of 56,000.

The program adopted in Magdeburg today takes a softer line towards the EU than the draft program from June, in which the AfD said it would seek the “orderly dissolution of the EU.”

Several AfD officials had previously voiced their desire for Germany to exit the EU altogether, in what is called “Dexit.” However, the new program says the AfD supports the idea of a “Europe of fatherlands, a European community of sovereign, democratic states.”

AfD co-leader Alice Weidel said that the new compromise had been reached during negotiations tonight, dpa reports.

The convention also finalizes the AfD’s list of 35 candidates for the European Parliament election next year.

At Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel, mourners gather for the funeral of Chen Amir, a municipal patrolman in Tel Aviv who was killed in a terror attack yesterday.

“You’re an Israeli hero,” his fellow officers cry out over his grave, according to the Walla news site. “Protect us, what a fighter you were.”

Military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari says the Palestinian terror cell ambushed by troops near the West Bank city of Jenin was heading to carry out a drive-by shooting attack against Israeli civilians in the area of the West Bank settlement of Mevo Dotan, and that the forces had “removed a real and immediate threat.”

“The cell was on its way to an attack in order to kill Israeli civilians,” Hagari says, noting a deadly drive-by shooting attack in the West Bank in May.

“There was an alert, we were prepared and therefore we also achieved a quick result. This is a targeted and surgical operation in which intelligence is the main enabler, together with very fast flexibility of the IDF and the operational units,” Hagari tells reporters.

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana hits out at the High Court for hearing petitions on two pieces of legislation relating to the government’s judicial overhaul and the recusal of a prime minister, asserting the justices have no authority to do so as they were approved as quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

“The judicial branch has no authority to deliberate the validity, application and content of Basic Laws,” Ohana, a member of the ruling Likud party, writes in a tweet. “This is the exclusive authority of the Knesset.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party hits out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the latter’s interview with Bloomberg.

“We recommend that Netanyahu not lie in English or Hebrew,” Yesh Atid says in a statement, referring to the series of recent interviews Netanyahu has given to foreign media while largely ignoring the Israeli press.

“There is no broad agreement, even within Likud,” it adds, calling Netanyahu’s comments “another weak performance of lies.”

The Israel Defense Forces, Border Police and Shin Bet security agency in a joint statement say forces killed three Palestinian gunmen who were en route to carrying out an attack in the West Bank.

According to the Shin Bet, the head of the cell is Naif Abu Suias, 26, a resident of the Jenin refugee camp. The agency says Suias was a “prominent military operative… who was involved in military activity against our forces and in advancing military activity directed by terror elements from the Gaza Strip.”

The IDF says the cell headed out by car from the Jenin refugee camp, and was ambushed by forces near the town of Arrabeh, south of Jenin.

In their car, troops found an assault rifle. Their bodies are being held by Israeli authorities.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggests his government will pass a bill to remake the committee that appoints judges, the most far-reaching and controversial measure in the judicial shakeup package, and after that may not advance further legislation overhauling the judiciary.

The next measure the coalition will seek to advance will “probably be about the composition of the committee that elects judges,” Netanyahu tells the US news agency. “That’s basically what’s left — because other things I think we should not legislate.”

In its current form, the judicial selection bill, which was suspended in March but is ready for its final readings at short notice, scraps the current Judicial Selection Committee, under which coalition and Supreme Court representatives each have veto power over the other’s candidates for the top court, requiring a consensus on such appointments. Instead, the legislation would bring appointments throughout the Israeli judicial hierarchy under near-absolute government control.

An alternative proposal, floated last week by Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, would restructure the committee so that half of its representatives would be from the coalition and half of its members would be from the opposition. Such a move would not only completely politicize the committee, but could also leave a loophole in which a party broadly supportive of the coalition could formally sit in the opposition and gain representation on the panel, thereby giving the coalition full control.

Netanyahu tells Bloomberg the Supreme Court is “perhaps the most activist judicial court on the planet” and that “there has to be a balance. That’s what we’re trying to restore.”

He adds: “I’m absolutely sure that Israel will come out stable, successful and democratic — at least as democratic and in my view more democratic. I don’t think we’re going to tear the country apart, I don’t think we’re going to have civil war.”

Netanyahu also says he hopes Israel isn’t plunged into a “constitutional crisis.”

He has recently refused to commit to honoring a theoretical High Court of Justice decision striking down the first piece of legislation in the judicial overhaul, the so-called “reasonableness” law — which was passed on July 24 as a constitutional Basic Law — raising concerns of such a scenario. (That law bars judicial review of government and ministerial decisions on the basis of their reasonableness. Further planned legislation would significantly limit the High Court’s capacity to strike down legislation, allow the Knesset to relegislate a law that is struck down, and/or enable the Knesset to preemptively designate legislation as immune to High Court review.)

“I think we won’t. I think there’s a way of reaching an equitable compromise, which is what I’m trying to do now,” the premier tells Bloomberg.

He also brushes off warnings of economic fallout from the overhaul, urging foreign investors to continue parking their funds in the Jewish state.

“There’s noise in the short-term markets,” Netanyahu claims. “There’s clarity in the long-term markets.”

Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel joins Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in defending Shin Bet Ronen Bar, after a pair of coalition lawmakers railed at him for reportedly warning that terrorist acts by Jewish Israelis are fueling Palestinian terrorism.

Gamliel, like Gallant a member of the ruling Likud party, slams the “grave” comments against Bar, who she says “works around the clock for the security of Israel” along with other Shin Bet agents.

“Our lives in the country are made possible thanks to the great efforts of the security forces. We must grant them clear support and condemn the attacks against them,” she adds in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

The Israel Defense Forces confirms troops targeted an armed Palestinian terror cell in the Jenin area.

Initial Palestinian media reports suggest at least two Palestinians were killed.

The IDF says the cell was en route to carry out an attack, without further elaborating.

Footage shows the moment Israeli troops opened fire at the Palestinian cell near Jenin

— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) August 6, 2023

Palestinian media outlets are reporting that Israeli forces opened fire at a vehicle near the West Bank city of Jenin.

Further details surrounding the incident are not immediately clear.

اللحظات الأولى بعد إطلاق قوة خاصة إسرائيلية النار تجاه مركبة فلسطينية قرب دوار عرابة جنوب جنين.

— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) August 6, 2023

A car is struck by a train in Lod after driving onto the tracks, leading Israel Railways to halt service between the central city and nearby Rehovot.

There are no reports of injuries.

According to the rail service, the car apparently drove around the crossing gate while it was closed.

A baby was apparently forgotten by her family at a train station in Haifa, according to security footage.

In the video, the baby can be seen alone in a stroller at the train station, as people walk by her. Two Israel Railways employees then check the stroller and seem to ask passersby whether the baby is theirs, before alerting a security guard.

תינוקת נשכחה בתחנת הרכבת בחיפה לבדה, צוות התחנה שמר עליה עד שהצליחו ליצור קשר עם ההורים שהיו בדרכם ברכבת דרומה ותוך כחצי שעה היא התאחדה שוב עם בני משפחתה.

קרדיט: רכבת ישראל

— ארנולד נטייב (@ArnoldNataev) August 6, 2023

The rail operator says the baby was watched over by the station’s staff for 30 minutes until the family returned. It wasn’t clear why her relatives left her there.

A number of suspects have been detained in connection to yesterday’s deadly terrorist shooting attack in Tel Aviv, a defense source says.

The suspects, including some who are thought to be close with the gunman Kamel Abu Bakr, were detained overnight by Israeli security forces.

Further details on the number of detainees and their suspicions are not immediately released.

The Shin Bet is investigating how Abu Bakr, a wanted Islamic Jihad member hiding in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, managed to enter Israel and carry out the attack in the coastal city.

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government says it’s suspending the popular Telegram messaging application across the country on “national security” grounds, drawing criticism on channels close to pro-Iran factions.

The service was effectively blocked by midday, with new messages not loading for users in Baghdad. The application is still accessible to users connected using a VPN.

Iraq’s ministry of communications justifies the decision, citing “directives from higher authorities related to national security.”

The ministry also says the suspension is necessary to “protect the personal data of citizens, which is violated by the application.”

The government saus Telegram “did not respond” to its repeated requests to address the issue of “data leakage from state institutions and individuals, which poses a threat to national security and social peace.”

Telegram is very popular in Iraq, and is notably used as a propaganda platform for groups associated with armed factions and pro-Iran political parties.

One such channel criticizes Iraq’s decision to suspend Telegram, saying that it amounted to “gagging” them.

The channel, which has over 330,000 subscribers, also accuses the Iraqi government, backed by pro-Iran parties, of “confiscating freedoms.”

A group of former police chiefs and senior officers sends a letter to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar expressing concern that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is seeking to “taint” the investigation of two settlers over the killing of a Palestinian in the West Bank.

In the letter, the retired officers note Ben Gvir’s praise of the arrested shooter, saying he should be awarded a “medal of honor.” The second suspect held in the case is a member of Ben Gvir’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party.

“The remarks by the minister in charge of police are an effort to interfere in a criminal investigation, distort its direction and taint it,” they write.

They also assert that Ben Gvir reached out to the police commander in the West Bank in an effort to sway the investigators.

The Education Ministry warns of a shortfall of 2,800 teachers and preschool instructors at schools nationwide, weeks before the new school year is due to begin.

While well short of the ministry’s target, the figure marks an increase from June, when it reported a shortage of 5,000 teachers.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has reportedly frozen grants earmarked for Arab municipalities so he can “reconsider” what to do with the money.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, NIS 200 million that was earmarked for economic development has yet to be transfered to Arab local authorities despite a warning from Shas Interior Minister Moshe Arbel.

Smotrich tells Kan that he is “reconsidering” the transfer of funds as he weighs his “priorities” for the funding.

Kan today publishes a letter sent to Smotrich last month from Arbel calling on the finance minister “to release” hundreds of millions of shekels to Arab municipalities. Failure to do so, Arbel warned, “may lead to significant damage to the local authorities’ budgetary balance.”

Though the letter is dated July 26, the report says Smotrich has yet to free up the funds in any manner and they remain with the Treasury.

An Israeli tourist was beaten up in Berlin, with local police reportedly investigating the attack as a suspected antisemitic crime.

According to local reports, the 19-year-old and an 18-year-old Israeli woman he was with were walking in the German capital’s Kreuzberg neighborhood last night when a car with three suspects inside pulled up as he was speaking on the phone in Hebrew.

One of the passengers said something to the Israeli in German, which he didn’t understand. The three then began whaling on him before getting back in the car and fleeing the scene, the reports added.

The Jüdische Allgemeine news site says authorities have begun probing the assault and are looking at a potential antisemitic motive, and that the Israeli was treated for injuries to his arm and face.

The High Court of Justice steps up the pressure on the coalition by issuing an interim injunction over the recently approved recusal law and expands the panel hearing the petitions against the legislation to 11 justices.

The court’s injunction instructs the prime minister and the Knesset to specify any reason the court should not order that the recusal law — which shields prime ministers from being ordered by the court or the attorney general to recuse themselves — come into effect at a later period.

The injunction effectively demonstrates that the court is considering issuing a ruling to “interpret” the law as not taking immediate effect, in order to strip the controversial legislation of its personal aspect since it currently applies directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The law was passed by the coalition seemingly to ensure that Netanyahu could not be ordered to recuse himself over any alleged violation of his conflict of interest agreement from 2020, which prohibits him from making judicial appointments, and arguably broader changes to the judiciary, as his government seeks to do.

During the course of the High Court hearing on Thursday on petitions against the legislation, the three presiding judges, including Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut made very clear they believed the law to have been tailored personally for Netanyahu, and therefore flawed, and asked attorneys representing the Knesset and the attorney general if delaying implementation would resolve this problem.

The interim injunction and the expansion of the panel to 11 justices indicates the court is now formally weighing this option.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran appoints Mohammed Jafar Montazeri, who is under US and British sanctions, to head the Islamic Republic’s top court.

Montazeri was named the supreme court chief after the “opinions of all the court judges” were taken into consideration, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website says.

The 75-year-old, who had served as prosecutor general since 2016, will be succeeded in his former post by Mohammad Kazem Movahedi Azad, the chief of High Disciplinary Court of Judges which investigates judicial conduct, Mizan adds.

Montazeri was placed under US sanctions in December, with Washington identifying him as having a role in “overseeing the prosecution of protesters” during mass demonstrations in Iran last year.

Britain followed suit in January and imposed punitive measures against Montazeri following the execution of British-Iranian Alireza Akbari for spying.

Iran was gripped by unrest after the September death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, following her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress rules for women.

The demonstrations saw hundreds of people killed, including dozens of security personnel, and thousands arrested in connection with what officials labeled as “riots.”

Seven men have been executed in protest-related cases involving killings and other violence against security forces.

For the second time in three days, arriving travelers at Ben Gurion Airport are stuck waiting for their luggage as the loading and unloading of bags is halted.

It’s not immediately clear what caused the delay.

שיבושים קשים בנתב"ג: הטענת ופריקת מזוודות הופסקה@sharonidan

— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 6, 2023

Reports on Friday’s problems at the airport indicated the extended delays may have been due to a wildcat labor action, which the workers denied.

A number of coalition lawmakers attack the head of the Shin Bet for reportedly warning that terrorist acts by Jewish Israelis are fueling Palestinian terrorism, saying “ideas of the left have reached the top” of the security agency and that senior defense officials do not know how to “distinguish between the enemy and your people,” prompting Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to come to the defense of Ronen Bar.

“Thanks to the members of the Shin Bet and their leader, who operate far from the public eye, the lives of Israeli citizens are saved every day,” Gallant says in a statement.

“I strongly condemn the statements of Knesset members insulting the head of the Shin Bet, and suggest that they retract them and apologize for their words,” he continues.

“Any attack by public figures against the Shin Bet harms the security of the state and its citizens,” Gallant adds.

This morning, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that Bar had personally warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Jewish terrorism against Palestinians in the West Bank was fueling Palestinian terrorism.

The warning reportedly came days before a young Palestinian man was allegedly killed by Israeli settlers near Ramallah on Friday night, and a Palestinian terrorist from Jenin killed an Israeli patrolman in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening.

The high-level security cabinet is convening this afternoon for a meeting focusing on recent tensions on the Lebanese border and the West Bank.

While scheduled in advance, the meeting is also expected to address yesterday’s terror attack in Tel Aviv, in which a member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad from the Jenin area shot dead a municipal patrolman. There is also concern of a potential escalation in violence around the West Bank after a Palestinian was killed during clashes with settlers Friday evening. Two Israelis have been arrested over the shooting.

Hebrew media reports say ministers not will vote during the meeting on a series of measures aimed at shoring up the Palestinian Authority — which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the Biden administration he’d advance — due to the premier’s concern he’d take flak in light of the proximity to the attack in Tel Aviv, but they will be discussed.

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