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Netanyahu is courting disaster: Israeli prime minister oversteps with judicial overhaul

In office off and on for 15 years since 1996, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no stranger to political scuffling, but his moves to diminish the power of the nation’s Supreme Court and exert more control over the judiciary — in defiance of hundreds of thousands protesting Israelis — go well beyond the standard back-and-forth and into strongman territory.

No system is perfect. Our own domestic checks and balances certainly have flaws, and a Supreme Court stacked with Trump appointees — a result of Senate Republicans’ bad-faith maneuvering in failing to consider Obama nominee Merrick Garland while cramming Amy Coney Barrett through less than a month before the 2020 election — has handed down terrible decisions on everything from abortion to gun control.

Yet as much as we gripe about our errant high court, it is preferable to have actually independent courts that have the opportunity to review the actions of the political branches. We don’t have to speculate much about what a government can turn into when this is not the case, only to look at the existing examples.

Almost 20 years ago, Vladimir Putin pushed through similar changes to give himself far more control over the appointment of the nation’s judges. At the time, Kremlin loyalists insisted the move was an effort to root out corruption. We know with the benefit of hindsight (and, frankly, it was predictable then), that this was simply another step in Putin’s quest to crush any ability to oppose him, a path that would take him years later to the disastrous invasion of Ukraine.

It doesn’t help that Netanyahu’s defiance on remaking the judiciary comes at the same time as the Knesset passed a new law that seems designed to shield him personally from the fallout of both this plan and his ongoing corruption trial. If the longtime Israeli leader is merely attempting to have a more pluralistic and independent court system and government, as he absurdly claims, why is he getting his political allies to write customized legislation to safeguard his power?

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