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Court Considers Canceling Controversial Knesset Constitutional Change
Supreme Court of Israel, with the Knesset in the background. (israeltourism/Creative Commons)

Court Considers Canceling Controversial Knesset Constitutional Change

Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday held a special session to discuss a petition by human rights groups and Arab Israeli citizens, hoping to strike down the controversial nation-state law, passed in 2018, which officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The petitioners specifically requested the high court declare several articles, pertaining to Israel’s official language, government land allocation, and others that they claimed discriminated outright against non-Jewish citizens – as unconstitutional. Legal experts are unanimous in their assumption that the Supreme Court will decline to intervene, as the striking down of a “basic law” would be unprecedented. In lieu of a formal written constitution organized as one unified document, Israel’s parliament has over the years codified the country’s constitution in a piecemeal fashion through the passage of “basic laws.” These define the structure, authority and functions of various governmental institutions, as well as certain human and civil rights, anchoring them in a quasi-constitutional framework. Special majorities are required to amend all or part of some of the basic laws, which strengthens their constitutional character. Basic laws have never been overturned or invalidated by the courts. Hours before the court session began on Tuesday, Parliament Chairman Yariv Levin, a member of the right-wing Likud party, sent an urgent letter to Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, admonishing her for even hearing the petition and threatening not to accept any ruling that contradicts the parliament’s decrees. Such a scenario would plunge Israel into a constitutional crisis.

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