Former top Israeli legal officials oppose judicial overhaul

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Former top Israeli legal officials spoke out Thursday against sweeping changes to the country’s justice system planned by the new conservative government, lending their voices to a growing outcry against the proposed overhaul.

Seven former attorneys general who have served in the post throughout the last five decades signed a letter of protest, along with four other former senior legal officials. Three of the former attorneys general were appointed under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose current justice minister is spearheading the legal overhaul. The letter, published in Israeli media, denounced the proposed changes, saying they are destructive to the country’s legal system.

“We call on the government to withdraw the proposed plan and prevent the serious harm to the justice system and the rule of law,” the letter said.

The former officials said the changes would turn the Supreme Court, often the last recourse for Israelis and Palestinians seeking to challenge what they see as discriminatory policies, into a “pseudo-political body that would be suspected of bending the law in favor of the government.”

Israel’s new government has made overhauling the country’s legal system a centerpiece of its agenda. It wants to weaken the Supreme Court, allowing lawmakers to pass laws the court has struck down with a simple majority in parliament. Other changes include politicizing the appointment of judges, reducing the independence of government legal advisors or ignoring their counsel.

The legal changes could help Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, evade conviction, or even make his trial disappear entirely. Since being indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has railed publicly against the justice system, calling it biased against him. He says the legal overhaul will be carried out responsibly.

The plan has prompted an uproar over what critics say is a major threat to the country’s democratic fundamentals. The country’s current attorney general has already fiercely criticized the proposed changes and a protest against them last week drew thousands. Alan Dershowitz, a staunch Israel defender, has also come out against the plan, saying were he in Israel he would be joining the demonstrations.

Critics accuse the government of declaring war against the legal system, saying the plan will upend Israel’s system of checks and balances and undermine its democratic institutions by giving absolute power to the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history. The government says the overhaul is a necessary step to streamline governance and correct an imbalance that has granted the legal system too much sway.

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