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Israel’s top court hears challenges to PM removal law

Chief justice Esther Hayut (centre) has openly criticised a judicial overhaul sought by Israel’s ruling coaltion. (Pool/AP pic)

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court heard arguments today against a law passed by the ruling coalition that limits conditions for any removal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office, in the latest showdown among branches of government to grip the nation.

Political watchdog groups and an opposition party have challenged the March 23 amendment to a quasi-constitutional “Basic Law”, which Netanyahu’s own attorney-general described as designed to preserve his tenure amid a long-running graft trial.

The law’s proponents say it is meant to safeguard any democratically elected leader from a wrongful ouster.

Eleven of the Supreme Court’s 15 judges convened for the televised hearing, presided over by chief justice Esther Hayut, who retires next month. She has openly criticised a judicial overhaul sought by Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition.

In a statement, justice minister Yariv Levin condemned the hearing as “a de facto discussion of rescinding the results of the election” that returned Netanyahu to power in December. The premier denies wrongdoing in three criminal cases against him.

The full court bench is separately preparing a ruling on challenges to a July amendment voiding its power to overrule some cabinet-level decisions on the basis of “reasonableness”.

Critics say that the law removed one of the last checks on the executive and a coalition-controlled parliament, in a country that has no written constitution. Netanyahu argued for a redress of what he calls overreach by an unrepresentative judiciary.

Next month, the court is due to hear appeals relating to the convening of a committee for appointing judges, delayed due to a dispute over a government bid to shake up its membership.

A ruling on the “incapacity clause”, defining terms for deeming a premier unfit to serve, was not expected today.

The Supreme Court’s options include upholding the legislation as is, quashing it, or ruling that it must not come into effect before the next parliamentary elections. Attorney-general Gali Baharav Miara has recommended the latter.