The changes proposed by the government amount to most extreme shakeup for Israel’s judiciary since its founding in 1948.
Israel, which has no written constitution but only a set of quasi-constitutional basic laws, has had a relatively powerful Supreme Court, which supporters of the changes argue is problematic.
But the Supreme Court is the only check on the power of the Knesset and the government, since the executive and legislative branches are always controlled by the same governing coalition.
The prime minister and his supporters argue that the Supreme Court has become an insular, elitist group that does not represent the Israeli people. They say it has overstepped its role, getting into issues it should not rule on.
Defending his plans, the prime minister has pointed to countries like the United States, where politicians control which federal judges are appointed and approved.
But critics say the overhaul will destroy the only avenue available to provide checks and balances in the governing of the country. They also warn it will hurt rights not enshrined in Israel’s basic laws, like minority rights and freedom of expression.
Netanyahu rules over the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, including both ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties. Some members of the government have come under fire for expressing extremist views.
According to polling released in February by the Israel Democracy Institute, only a minority of Israelis support the changes. The vast majority – 72% – want a compromise to be reached and, even then, 66% think the Supreme Court should have the power to strike down laws and 63% of Israelis think the current method of appointing judges should stay as it is.
Millions of Israelis oppose the bill, including dozens of business leaders. Even Netanyahu’s own defense minister, Yoav Gallant, has called several times for delaying the overhaul in order to seek broad consensus. Netanyahu said he was dismissing Gallant earlier this year for criticizing the overhaul, but never went through with the firing.
A group of 150 leading Israeli companies went on strike Monday to protest Monday’s bill.
Opposition to the overhaul has also reached Israel’s security establishment with members of the military protesting the bill and more than 1,000 Air Force reservists vowing to stop volunteering if Monday’s bill passes.