Top Israeli legal official: Planned laws undermine democracy

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s attorney general warned on Thursday against a raft of legislation being proposed by the expected next government, saying some of the planned new laws would imperil the country’s democratic principles.

Gali Baharav-Miara’s comments set up what’s expected to be a major clash between the next government, a far-right coalition likely to be headed by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and buoyed by ultranationalists and ultra-Orthodox parties, and the judicial system, which could see its role as a check on politicians squeezed under the new legislation.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, is currently wrapping up negotiations on the coalition government and has reportedly been generous to his likely partners in exchange for changes that could make his legal woes disappear.

Netanyahu has said he is a victim of a witch hunt by the country’s legal system, but has said any reforms will be carried out cautiously.

The expected coalition has proposed a series of legal changes that include a law that would weaken the Supreme Court, allowing the parliament to overturn its rulings with as little as a simple majority. Critics say the move would endanger Israel’s democratic ideals and upend the country’s system of checks and balances by weakening the Supreme Court and concentrating too much power in the hands of politicians.

“Without judicial oversight and independent legal advice, we will remain only with the principle of majority rule,” Baharav-Miara told a legal conference at University of Haifa in northern Israel. “Democracy in name but not in essence.”

She chided other laws being passed in a marathon legislative session this week, saying they could “disrupt the system of checks and balances between the governing authorities.”

The laws, seen as essential to sealing the deal with Netanyahu’s partners, would clear the way for a politician convicted on tax charges to serve as a Cabinet minister. They would would grant greater powers to two coalition members from the far right over the police and West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its ultra-Orthodox and far-right partners captured a majority of seats in the Knesset, or parliament, in Nov. 1 elections, putting them in position to form a new government.

Netanyahu is on trial for a series of scandals involving powerful media titans and wealthy associates. He is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three cases. He denies wrongdoing.

Among the other proposals by his partners is legislation that could erase fraud and breach of trust from Israel’s penal code. They have suggested splitting up the attorney general into three roles, and making two of those political appointments, allowing Netanyahu to install someone who could throw out the indictment against him.

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