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Netanyahu Backs Down, for Now

There are a lot of messy things going on around the world right now. We don't want to devote too much of any single day's posting to non-U.S. stuff, so we'll address them throughout the week. Up today is Israel, which is helping to remind everyone that the U.S. Supreme Court isn't the only supreme court that's become highly politicized.

Note that, unlike the U.S., it's not that the members of the Israeli Supreme Court are toting the water for their political parties. The fact that they are not doing so is actually the root cause of the current crisis. Right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu does not particularly like it when his legislative initiatives are struck down. His right-wing allies in the current governing coalition feel the same way. It just might also have occurred to the Prime Minister that, if he had more power over the courts, he might just be able to make his personal legal troubles go away (he's supposed to go on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust).

Consequently, Netanyahu and his allies have put forward a bill that would allow the Knesset to overrule decisions made by Israeli courts, including the supreme court. This is pretty concerning stuff. To start, a politician should not be able to wave away his personal legal problems just because he happens to be in power (see: Report, Mueller). Beyond that, it would be bad if the U.S. Congress was empowered to unilaterally set aside court decisions. In Israel, it's even worse, because the parliamentary system means that the legislature and the executive are one and the same. There would be no check whatsoever on a majority party in the Knesset imposing whatever it wanted to impose on anyone it wanted to impose upon.

Joe Biden was alarmed enough by this plan that he and members of the State Department have tried to persuade Netanyahu that it's a bad idea. However, respect for Israeli sovereignty means that Team Biden has to tread lightly. Further, Bibi really doesn't care that much what Joe thinks, especially given that the PM is desperate for a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

Netanyahu does listen to Israeli voters, however. And many of them are very, very unhappy about the plan. In addition to not wanting Netanyahu to escape justice for any crimes he may have committed, they suspect that the right-wing coalition that controls the Knesset will crack down on secular Jews, ethnic minorities (e.g., the Palestinians), or all of the above. So, there have been protests and riots and labor strikes in Israel for many days, to an extent that the nation has apparently never before seen.

Yesterday, Netanyahu backed down, at least for now. He said that the judiciary bill would be postponed until the next session of the Knesset. That's actually only a few weeks away, so it's hard to say what his plan is, or what will happen next. The protests may or may not abate. Netanyahu may or may not try to bring the bill up again. Netanyahu's governing coalition, which has a paper-thin margin of error, may or may not survive. Your guesses on these questions are probably just about as good as Bibi's. (Z)

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