Twisting the Knife

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Israel’s top court on Monday struck down a controversial judicial reform law that had triggered mass protests throughout the country in the months preceding the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, with some officials saying the turmoil had set the stage for the massacre, the BBC reported.

The so-called “reasonableness bill” was introduced by the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party and was approved by parliament in July 2023. It would have limited the power of both the high court and local courts to nullify government decisions that those courts might deem to be “extremely unreasonable.”

In an 8-to-7 vote, the Supreme Court ruled against the bill, citing the threat it represented to the rule of law in Israeli democracy.

The court’s decision echoes the reaction of civil society, which from January to October 2023 took to the streets in protests numbering in the hundreds of thousands, calling on the law to be repealed and for Netanyahu to step down.

Organizers described the protests as the largest in Israel’s history. It involved a large cross-section of the population, including members of the military, leading to instability and political polarization.

Observers including top intelligence and defense officials said Monday this situation empowered Palestinian militant group Hamas to launch its large-scale attack on Oct. 7. Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, a former member of Netanyahu’s administration said she was to be held accountable for the domino effect created by the bill, in an apology statement rarely seen from Likud officials, the Associated Press wrote.

“I created a split, I created a rift, and I created tension. And this tension brought weakness. And this weakness, in many ways, brought massacre,” lawmaker Galit Distel Atbaryan said on television.

The “reasonableness bill” crisis was monitored by the United States and other allies. The Hamas attack and the subsequent war put the protests on pause and rallied foreign allies to support Israel.

The bill’s nullification, meanwhile, comes amid criticism of Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip as they continue to alarm most of the world, with the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken calling on Israel this week to respect international law.

Last week, South Africa initiated proceedings at the International Criminal Court against Israel for genocide and asked the court to halt the military campaign. On Monday, Israel said it was prepared to defend itself at the court, adding that “(Hamas) perpetrated an act of genocide on Israeli soil.”

At the same time, the Israeli army announced this week they were withdrawing thousands of troops from Gaza, preparing for a long-term, low-intensity campaign, Euronews reported.

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