Israel’s highest court discussed appeals on Thursday regarding a law that limits the ways in which a prime minister can be removed from office. This legal debate is taking place amid ongoing protests against the judicial changes, with the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the center of the controversy.
Eleven of the Supreme Court’s 15 judges sat to hear three appeals against legislation passed by parliament in March, which determined a premier can only be declared unfit for office due to health reasons.
The law also stipulated that a two-thirds majority in cabinet is required to take such a step, before the move is approved by at least 80 of the parliament’s 120 members.
Opponents argue the legislative change was intended solely to benefit Netanyahu, because it removes the possibility of him being removed from office over corruption charges.
Netanyahu in May 2020 became the first sitting prime minister of Israel to stand trial over a series of graft allegations he denies.
Ahead of the Supreme Court session, dozens of protesters rallied outside his Jerusalem residence, where four people were arrested, according to the police.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin declared the hearing “an attempt to overturn the elections”, in a statement published by his office.
He sits in cabinet alongside extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox allies who were elected in November.
Petitions tabled with the court demand the legislation either be scrapped or deferred until after the next elections.
The last time an Israeli prime minister was declared unfit for office was in 2006, when then incumbent Ariel Sharon was hospitalized and replaced by his deputy Ehud Olmert who held the post until the following elections.
The opposition subsequently sought to have Olmert removed from office, but the Supreme Court rejected their complaint.
Judges reached the same conclusion in 2021, when it ruled Netanyahu could stay in power despite the corruption charges against him.
He was subsequently booted out of office by the electorate, only to return to the premiership following November’s election.
Since the start of the year, his government has been shaken by mass protests against its sweeping judicial reform program.
The cabinet argues the overhaul is necessary to rebalance powers between elected officials and judges, while opponents say it paves the way for an autocracy.
Demonstrations held at least weekly since January have consistently drawn tens of thousands of protesters to the streets, making it one of the most significant protest movements in the country’s history.