top of page


The 2023 Debate Over Israel’s Judicial System


Print version

The 2023 Debate Over Israel’s Justice System

July 24, 2023


Israel’s government, which took office in January, 2023 (click here for further background), has proposed major changes to the balance of power between the Supreme Court and the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament). This triggered widespread protests and a deeply divisive debate in Israel and abroad.[1] As a non-partisan education organization, StandWithUs cannot advocate for or against any proposed law in Israel. However, we do educate about politics and different sides of controversial issues. The resource below covers historical background and context, along with a variety of external perspectives. We have also included a timeline of key events at the end. 


Historical Background

The debate over the role of Israel’s Supreme Court is connected to important developments that occurred in the 1990s. Israel has no constitution but it does have Basic Laws, which have more weight than regular laws. In the 1990s, Israel's Supreme Court began interpreting the country's Basic Laws as a type of constitution, and using them to challenge legislation passed by the Knesset and other actions taken by the government. This came to be known as the “Constitutional Revolution.”[2]


How would the government’s proposals change Israel’s justice system?[3]

The government proposed a set of laws that would:

  • Make it significantly harder for the Supreme Court to overturn laws made by elected leaders.

  • Give a majority of 61 (out of 120) Members of the Knesset the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions.

  • Give elected officials from the governing coalition the power to appoint most judges, replacing the current system where both the governing coalition and Supreme Court Justices can block candidates from being appointed.

  • Decrease the power of the Attorney General and other legal advisors to government ministries.

  • Remove “reasonableness” or “extreme unreasonableness” as grounds for the Supreme Court to reverse or prevent government actions (a version of this passed on July 24, 2023).

For further details, see the sources in Footnote #3


Who are the supporters and opponents of these changes, and what are their main arguments?

  • Israel’s new governing coalition, which is made up of right wing and religious political parties, has been attempting to pass the changes outlined above into law. The government and its supporters say[4]:

    • These changes are needed to restore balance to Israeli democracy and ensure the government reflects the will of Israeli voters, who elected a right wing and religious government.

    • The Supreme Court and other parts of the legal system are unelected and abuse their power to achieve the political goals of the left.

    • The changes will ensure that elected officials can govern effectively and make Israel more similar to other democracies, where political leaders appoint judges.


  • Opponents include current and former Israeli Supreme Court Justices, Prime Ministers, security officials, a past President, prominent tech CEOs, leading economists, and heads of opposition political parties. Most come from the left, center, and center-right of the Israeli political spectrum. Critics of the proposed judicial changes say[5]:

    • The Supreme Court overturns laws and other government decisions when they violate the law and/or the rights of individuals and groups. This is essential for democracy, which requires not only majority rule but also strong protections for minority groups.

    • Israel’s current system of government is different from other democracies, which have multiple houses of parliament and/or a more independent legislature with much greater power to check the executive branch. In Israel, the Supreme Court is the only institution that can reliably prevent the government and Knesset from abusing their power and creating a “tyranny of the majority.”

    • The changes harm Israel's economy, deepen social and political divisions, undermine the IDF, and damage Israel’s standing around the world.


  • Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to calm fears about the economy and pledged to uphold democracy and protect the rights of all Israelis, including the LGBTQ+ community, Arab citizens, secular people, and women.[6] However, other members of his governing coalition have proposed policies that would enable discrimination, according to critics. Concerns about PM Netanyahu's ongoing trial for charges of corruption and other members of his coalition with past convictions have also played a key role in the debate. These factors have contributed to fears that weakening the Supreme Court will lead to widespread abuses of power by the government.


  • This debate has become so intense partly because it has gone beyond how Israel’s government should function. For some Israelis it is also about deeper divisions, such as:

    • Whether Israel should be more religious or more secular (including tensions over the fact that many ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis do not serve in the military).

    • Whether it is most important for Israel to be a Jewish state or a democratic state.

    • If Israel’s governing institutions should be more representative of Mizrahi Jews (who tend to vote for more religious and right wing parties) or secular Ashkenazi Jews (who tend to vote for centrist and left wing parties)?

    • The relationship between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.

    • How to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Protests and other acts of opposition to the government’s proposed laws

  • Protests and “Days of Disruption” have been ongoing in Israeli cities for months, with hundreds of thousands of people participating across the country.[7] Smaller protests have occurred in cities like London and New York as well.[8]

  • Some prominent Israeli tech companies and foreign investors have reportedly moved billions of dollars out of Israel, citing concerns that Israel will no longer have a strong and independent judiciary to ensure a stable environment for doing business.[9]

  • Labor organizations like the Histadrut and the Israel Medical Association (IMA) have threatened to go on strike. IMA Chairman Zion Hagay said the government's proposed laws, “will devastate the healthcare system.”[10]

  • 800 former agents of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) called on the government to stop the judicial overhaul, arguing that reducing the independence of Israel's judicial system would expose Israeli soldiers and security personnel to international prosecution.[11]

  • The most controversial opposition tactic has been IDF reservists refusing to show up for reserve duty. In March, thousands of IDF reservists started threatening to take this step, including those in cyber, infantry, artillery, special forces, medical corps, and intelligence units, and Air Force and Navy units. Some formed the “Brothers in Arms” protest group. In July, the group delivered 4,000 signatures of reservists threatening to stop showing up, stating that, "we will not serve in a dictatorship." Political and military leaders have spoken out strongly against these moves, with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi stating, “Anyone who calls for not showing up harms the IDF," and PM Netanyahu saying it, “harms the body of the state, the security of the state.” Opposition leader Yair Lapid also expressed opposition to this form of protest. However, senior ex-security officials including Mossad and Shin Bet chiefs who served under PM Netanyahu have defended the tactic as a response to what they see as not just a political disagreement, but an effort to fundamentally change the regime in Israel.  Thus far, the vast majority of IDF reservists continue to show up for reserve duty.[12]

Debates over police treatment of protesters

  • The protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, but there have been some cases of violence. Police have been criticized for their treatment of protestors  - from one side for being too harsh and from the other for not enforcing the law strictly enough.

  • Allegations of excessive force include water cannons, sound cannons, and police on horseback causing serious injuries to protesters. Police have reported officers being injured as well.[13

  • Members of the Government, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have strongly criticized law enforcement for not doing more to prevent protesters from illegally blocking roads or prosecuting those who break the law. However, Israel's Attorney General has warned the government against any political interference in police responses to the protests.[14]

  • On July 5, Tel Aviv police chief Ami Eshed announced his resignation, stating that the government was about to remove him from his post because he refused to use "disproportionate force" against protesters. Eshed was replaced by Officer Peretz Omer on July 19.[15

Diplomatic and diaspora tensions

  • The proposed legislation has caused friction in the Jewish Diaspora and among Israeli ex-pats, with protests taking place in cities like New York and London.  

  • Israel’s consul general in New York, Asaf Zamir, resigned in protest of the government.  

  • The US government has published several statements urging that any changes to Israel's judicial system be made through consensus. President Biden has also criticized members of Israel’s current government, calling them “extreme.” 

  • Diaspora Jewish groups have spoken out against various aspects of the proposed legislation, including the European Jewish Congress, several organizations in the United Kingdom, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and Jewish Federations of North America.

Calls for calm and compromise

There have been increasingly heated statements on different sides of this debate, including support for violence in some cases. Numerous Israeli leaders have even expressed concerns about the potential for a civil war to break out. This has led to calls for calm and dialogue from many parts of Israeli society. According to polls, the vast majority of Israelis want the government and the opposition to create a compromise.[16]

  • Israel’s President Isaac Herzog has been among the most prominent figures calling for compromise. He presented a detailed proposal on March 15th, 2023, saying it was created after consulting with leading supporters and opponents of the current government. [17]

  • Others have proposed compromise plans of their own, including the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative thinktank that was reportedly involved in drafting the laws that the government is currently attempting to pass.[18]

  • Politicians from the government and opposition parties have expressed support for negotiations, and potentially for compromise. However, there have been no direct talks because the opposition has called for the legislative process to stop while negotiations take place, but the government has rejected that condition and said it will pass its proposed laws by the end of March.

  • The government has rejected the specific plan proposed by President Herzog, while some opposition leaders have expressed support or said they would be willing to use it as a starting point for talks.[19]

  • On March 20th, 2023, the government announced that all but one of its proposed laws will be delayed until the next Knesset session, which begins in May. The one they planned to pass in March was an updated version of the judicial appointments bill. This bill would give any new government in Israel full control over the first two judges appointed to the Supreme Court during its term. The third appointment would need the support of at least one opposition Member of Knesset and the fourth would also require the support of a Supreme Court Justice. The previous version would have given the government full control over all appointments.[20]

    • Israel's opposition parties strongly criticized this move, arguing that the changes to the judicial appointments law don't go far enough and that all the proposed laws have to be put on hold for negotiations to take place.

National strike and delay of the proposed laws

  • On March 26th, PM Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, after Gallant called for the government's proposed legislation to be delayed to allow for dialogue and compromise with the opposition.[21] Gallant's firing sparked mass protests of an estimated 600,000-700,000 people[22] and led Israel's powerful Histadrut labor federation to call for a nationwide strike.[23

  • On March 27th, PM Netanyahu announced that all the proposed judicial laws would be postponed until the next Knesset session in May. He stressed the need for broad agreement, saying that he would take, "a time out for dialogue." The announcement was delayed for several hours, amid reports that members of his coalition were threatening to resign and potentially bring down the government (which would lead to new elections).[24]

  • During this time, members of PM Netanyahu's coalition mobilized the first large demonstration supporting the government in Jerusalem, which took place before and after the delay was announced.[25]

  • Opposition politician Benny Gantz, Yoav Gallant (who was reinstated as Defense Minister), and others praised the decision to delay and work towards compromise. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid expressed the need for Israel to create a constitution and questioned whether the call for dialogue is genuine. Labor unions and business leaders called off their strikes, but protest leaders vowed to continue holding demonstrations.[26]

Breakdown of negotiations

  • Negotiations between the government and opposition were held from late March through mid June, 2023, hosted by President Herzog. 

  • Reports over parties being close to agreement on important issues like the reasonableness clause were met by statements from opposition leaders that no agreement had been reached, nor was one close.[27]  

  • After weeks of negotiations, talks between government and opposition parties were suspended by the opposition in mid-June. They demanded that the judicial selection committee be allowed to meet and select new Supreme Court justices, before negotiations begin again. Both sides blamed each other for the breakdown of talks.[28]  

The "reasonableness standard" bill and increased protests in response

  • In late June, the government introduced the latest part of its package of judicial changes - the "reasonableness standard" bill (mentioned above).[29] Supporters say this will stop abuses of power where the judiciary blocks government actions for political reasons, rather than legal ones. Opponents say this will enable abuses of power by the government, such as appointing ministers who were previously convicted on corruption charges.

  • Widespread protests have started up once again in response. These have included demonstrations at Ben-Gurion Airport, blocking major roads in Tel Aviv, a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and more IDF reservists pledging to stop showing up for volunteer reserve duty unless the government reverses course.

  • Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to the bill as the "Sohlberg plan" after Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg, who has criticized the court's use of the reasonableness standard. However on July 18th Sohlberg said that he did not intend for restrictions on the Supreme Court to be imposed through legislation.[30

  • A final vote was scheduled for July 24th. There were widely reported efforts to bring about a compromise led by President Herzog, the Histadrut, and others up until the last minute, but they failed. Amid widespread opposition and protests, the government passed the reasonableness standard bill 64-0, with all 56 members of the opposition boycotting the vote.[31

  • Opposition Leader Yair Lapid promised to challenge the law in Israel’s Supreme Court and National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz said “Everything approved here will be canceled and erased from the book of laws, sooner or later.”[32

  • Protests intensified after the bill passed, as police clashed with protestors who blocked roads in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In Kfar Saba, a driver was arrested after driving into a crowd and injuring three protesters. Leaders from the Histadrut said they are considering a general strike in response to the reasonableness standard bill.[33]

  • No further laws can be passed until the Knesset begins its next session in October. PM Netanyahu has offered to negotiate in the meantime, "to reach a general agreement on everything." However, Lapid and Gantz argued that this is an empty gesture because other members of the government will reject any compromise.[34]

  • Numerous members of PM Netanyahu's ruling Likud party have indicated that they may not support further changes to the judicial system being made without a compromise with the opposition. If four MKs from the governing coalition refuse to vote for the changes, the government will not be able to pass them.[35]

These events have been very painful to watch from the outside and even more painful for many Israelis to experience. At the same time, recent months have shown that Israeli democracy is very much alive, and while there are no guarantees, there is an opportunity for a compromise that reduces divisions and tensions. The outcome of this debate will remain unclear for months, and we will share educational resources about any major new developments. We reaffirm our support of Israel, respect for Israeli democracy and vibrant debate, and pride in Israel’s Jewish and democratic values.


December 2022

  • December 29: Israel’s new government is formed, led by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. 

January 2023

  • January 4: Justice Minister Yariv Levin introduces laws to change Israel’s judicial system. 

  • January 7: Protests begin in Tel Aviv and soon become weekly events across Israel.  


February 2023

  • February 13: The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, headed by MK Simcha Rothman, votes 9–7 in favor of bringing several of the proposed judicial changes to the Knesset for a vote.  


March 2023 

  • March 1: Protest leaders organize first national Day of Disruption with mass demonstrations across the country. 

  • March 23: Incapacitation Bill (not part of the main package of judicial system changes) passes and becomes law. The bill adds additional criteria which must be met before a Prime Minister can be declared unfit for office. 

  • March 25: Defense Minister and Likud member Yoav Gallant calls for a pause to the proposed reforms, saying the growing social divisions are a threat to Israel’s security.  

  • March 26: PM Netanyahu announces that Gallant will be fired as Defense Minister. Mass protests erupt throughout Israel and Israeli universities announce a strike.  

  • 27 March: President Isaac Herzog calls on PM Netanyahu to pause the legislation and the powerful Histadrut labor union announces a nationwide strike. In response, PM Netanyahu announces that the judicial system changes will be delayed to allow for negotiations.  


April & May 2023 

  • Negotiations between the government and opposition parties are held at President Isaac Herzog’s residence in Jerusalem. Weekly protests continued on a smaller scale throughout Israel. 


June 2023 

  • June 14: Opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz end their involvement in negotiations, stating they would not return until the government allowed the judicial selection committee to meet and nominate new Supreme Court justices.   


July 2023 

  • July 5: Tel Aviv Police Chief Amichai Eshed announces his resignation, stating that the government was about to remove him from his post due to “political considerations” and for refusing to use disproportionate force against protesters. Protests increase in response to this.  

  • July 11: The bill, Abolishing the Reasonableness Standard, is brought before the Knesset and passes the first of three votes needed to become law. 

  • July 19: President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint session of Congress, highlighting the importance of an independent judiciary and the resilience of Israeli democracy. A group of protestors announce a 4-day march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as the government continues to advance the reasonableness bill through the legislative process.

  • July 24: The Knesset passes the reasonableness bill, with the opposition promising to overturn it after the next election. The law is immediately challenged in court. 


[1] I24NEWS, “Over 300,000 rally across Israel in 10th week of judicial reform protests,” i24 News, March 11, 2023, at

[2] Haviv Rettig Gur, “Battle over High Court exposes frailty of Israel’s piecemeal system of government,” Times of Israel, January 11, 2023, at

 Prof. Amichai Cohen, Prof Yuval Shani, “The New Israeli Government’s ‘Constitutional Law Reforms’: Why now? What do they mean? And what will happen next?” The Israel Democracy Institute, February 14, 2023, at

[3] Israel Democracy Institute, “The Planned Overhaul of Israel’s Judiciary,” at; Adv. Aharon Garber and Adv. Avraham Shalev, “Why judicial reform is essential,” Kohelet Policy Forum, February 19, 2023, at 

[4] Adv. Aharon Garber and Adv. Avraham Shalev, “Why judicial reform is essential,” Kohelet Policy Forum, February 19, 2023, at 

[5] Israel Democracy Institute, “The Planned Overhaul of Israel’s Judiciary,” at

[6] TOI Staff, “PM defends judicial overhaul: Amendments will be made responsibly, everyone calm down,” Times of Israel, January 13, 2023, at; Ilan Ben Zion, “Netanyahu rebukes far-right ally for anti-LGBTQ comments,” Associated Press, December 25, 2022, at 

[7] TOI Staff, “Protesters block roads in day of ‘escalating resistance’ as PM nixes Herzog proposal,” Times of Israel, March 16th, 2023, at

[8] Luke Tress and TOI Staff, “Hundreds demonstrate in New York, London against Israeli judicial shakeup plan,” Times of Israel, March 12, 2023, at

[9] Ash Obel, “Report: Bank officials believe $4 billion moved out of Israel in recent weeks,” Times of Israel, February 15th, 2023, at

[10] GIANLUCA PACCHIANI, "Doctors plan strike this week in protest of judicial overhaul," Times of Israel, July 17, 2023, at

[11] TOI Staff, “Warning of ‘clear and immediate danger,’ ex-Shin Bet agents urge overhaul be shelved,” Times of Israel, July 17, 2023, at

[12] i24NEWS, “450 Israeli army reservists refuse to serve in protest against judicial reform,” i24NEWS, March 19, 2023, at; Emanuel Fabian, "‘Won’t serve dictatorship’: Reservists to suspend volunteer duty over legal shakeup," Times of Israel, July 19, 2023, at Fabian, "IDF chief: Reservists’ refusal to serve harms military, national security," Times of Israel, July 18, 2023, at; TOI Staff, "Lapid opposes reservists’ threats to refuse service, says he understands their fears," Times of Israel, March 5, 2023, at Staff, "Ex-Shin Bet chief justifies army reservists’ refusal to serve: ‘Overhaul is a coup’," Times of Israel, July 20, 2023, at Staff, "Former AG: Coalition’s bill is a ‘coup,’ would ‘crush’ judiciary and cause ‘tyranny’," Times of Israel, July 20, 2023, at; Yonah Jeremy Bob, "IDF reservists mostly still serving despite Knesset judiciary vote," Jerusalem Post, July 12, 2023, at

[13] CARRIE KELLER-LYNN, EMANUEL FABIAN and TOI STAFF, “As protests sweep nation, police use aggressive means to clear Tel Aviv rally,” Times of Israel, March 1, 2023, at

[14] TOI Staff, “AG warns against ‘quotas’ for arrests, prosecution of anti-overhaul protesters” Times of Israel, July 17, 2023, at

[15] Maayan Lubell, “TTel Aviv police chief quits, citing government meddling against protesters” Reuters, July 6, 2023, at; Michael Starr, "Ami Eshed takes shot at Ben-Gvir as new Tel Aviv police chief enters role," The Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2023, at

[16] Sam Halpern, “Two-thirds of Israelis oppose Netanyahu government’s judicial reform – poll,” The Jerusalem Post, February 21, 2023, at

[17] TOI Staff, “Warning of civil war, Herzog unveils framework for judicial reform; PM rejects it,” Times of Israel, March 15, 2023, at

[18] AFP, Ynet, “Israeli scholars present judicial reform compromise amid mass protests,” YNet News, March 14, 2023, at; Jeremy Sharon, “Kohelet, right-wing think tank that inspired overhaul, calls for partial compromise,” Times of Israel, March 14, 2023, at

[19] TOI Staff, “‘Unacceptable, insulting’: PM, coalition dismiss Herzog’s judicial reform framework,” Times of Israel, March 15, 2023, at

[20] Jeremy Sharon, Carrie Keller-Lynn, and TOI Staff, "Coalition to bring judicial appointments bill for final votes before Passover," Times of Israel, March 20, 2023, at 

[21] Emanuel Fabian and TOI Staff, “Netanyahu fires Defense Minister Gallant for calling to pause judicial overhaul” Times of Israel, March 26, 2023, at

[22] TOI Staff, "‘We are not afraid’: Mass protests erupt nationwide after Netanyahu fires Gallant," Times of Israel, March 27, 2023, at

[23] TOI Staff, "Ben Gurion departures halted as Histadrut declares ‘historic’ strike against overhaul," Times of Israel, March 27, 2023, at

[24] Jeremy Sharon, "Netanyahu says he’s delaying overhaul to allow dialogue, but vows reform will happen," Times of Israel, March 27, 2023, at

[25] Carrie Keller-Lynn and TOI Staff, "In first, tens of thousands rally to back overhaul; ministers promise it will pass," Times of Israel, March 27, 2023, at

[26] Jeremy Sharon, "Netanyahu says he’s delaying overhaul to allow dialogue, but vows reform will happen," Times of Israel, March 27, 2023, at

[27] i24NEWS, "Israeli opposition parties deny any progress on judicial reform negotiations," i24NEWS, May 17, 2023, at

[28] Jeremy Sharon and TOI STAFF, "Lapid, Gantz freeze overhaul negotiations over ‘PM’s capitulation to extremists’," Times of Israel, June 14, 2023, at

[29] Eliav Breuer, "Reasonableness Doctrine bill to pass into law by July 31," Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2023, at

[30] Michael Starr, "Justices Sohlberg and Hayut issue rare comments on judicial reform," Jerusalem Post, July 18, 2023, at 

[31] Carrie Keller-Lynn, "Coalition passes 1st judicial overhaul law, limiting review of government decisions," Times of Israel, July 24, 2023, at

[32] Carrie Keller-Lynn, "Coalition passes 1st judicial overhaul law, limiting review of government decisions," Times of Israel, July 24, 2023, at

[33] TOI Staff, "Police clear Ayalon freeway as thousands rally against overhaul into night," Times of Israel, July 24, 2023, at; TOI Staff, "Car plows into protesters near Kfar Saba, injuring three; police arrest driver," Times of Israel, July 24, 2023, at; Reuters, "Israel's main union to discuss declaring general strike," Reuters, July 24, 2023, at

[34] Carrie Keller-Lynn, "Netanyahu offers talks on next overhaul laws; Lapid: An empty show, he’s not real PM," Times of Israel, July 24, 2023, at

[35] TOI Staff, "Several Likud MKs indicate they may not back more overhaul laws without consensus," Times of Israel, July 28, 2023, at

bottom of page