How Israel’s Judicial Reform Affects Environmental Protection


On June 22, 2023, a huge blast rocked the coast of Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, leaving a large crater on the site of a former munitions factory. The explosion was caused by three tonnes of explosives that had been buried and forgotten for decades. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed by the blast, as the site was empty and undeveloped.

The reason why the site was vacant was because the Supreme Court of Israel had blocked any construction work from ever starting. The court had ruled in favor of a petition by environmental groups, who challenged the official environmental survey that approved the development plan for a beachfront apartment complex. The court found that the survey had shortcomings and that the plan was unreasonable.

How Israel’s Judicial Reform Affects Environmental Protection
How Israel’s Judicial Reform Affects Environmental Protection

The unreasonableness clause was a legal provision that gave Israeli judges the power to intervene when actions by the government or ministers were deemed unreasonable or irrational. It was often used by advocacy groups to push for action by the authorities on environmental issues, such as cleaning up contaminated water wells, tackling pollution at the central bus station, or preserving natural habitats.

The Government’s Judicial Overhaul Limits the Court’s Authority

However, the unreasonableness clause may not be available for future petitions, as the Israeli government has passed a series of judicial reforms that have sparked protests at home and criticism from Western allies abroad. The reforms aim to limit the court’s involvement in political matters and to increase the government’s control over judicial appointments.

One of the changes passed so far is that the government and ministers are now exempt from judicial oversight based on the unreasonableness clause. This means that the court can no longer review or overturn decisions made by the executive branch based on their reasonableness or lack thereof.

The government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition of nationalist and religiously conservative parties, says that the judicial overhaul is necessary to prevent political overreach by unelected judges. They argue that the court has interfered too much in policy-making and legislation, and that it has undermined the sovereignty of the parliament and the will of the people.

Environmentalists Fear for Their Ability to Act on Behalf of the Public

Opponents of the judicial overhaul say that the changes emasculate the judiciary’s role to provide a vital check and balance in Israel’s political system, a country with a single parliamentary chamber, a largely ceremonial presidency and no constitution. They warn that the reforms threaten Israel’s democracy and human rights, and that they could lead to more corruption and abuse of power.

Environmentalists are particularly concerned about how the judicial overhaul will affect their ability to act on behalf of the public and to hold the government accountable for its actions on environmental issues. They say that without the unreasonableness clause, they will have fewer legal tools to challenge environmental surveys, demand environmental impact assessments, or seek injunctions against harmful projects.

“It’s a fatal blow to our ability to act on behalf of the public,” said Amit Bracha, executive director at Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), or ATD, one of the groups that joined the petition to block work on the coastal development in Herzliya. He added that without judicial oversight, there will be less transparency and more pressure from developers and lobbyists on environmental decisions.

The Future of Environmental Protection in Israel Remains Uncertain

The judicial overhaul is not yet complete, as some of the changes require constitutional amendments that need wider support in parliament. The government also faces legal challenges from opposition parties and civil society groups, who have filed petitions to the Supreme Court to annul some of the reforms.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on these petitions, but it has issued temporary injunctions to suspend some of the changes until further notice. The court has also expressed its disapproval of some of the reforms, saying that they undermine its independence and authority.

The future of environmental protection in Israel remains uncertain, as it depends largely on how the judicial overhaul will play out in parliament and in court. Environmentalists hope that they will still have some legal avenues to pursue their causes, such as appealing to international conventions or invoking other clauses in Israeli law. They also hope that public opinion and awareness will support their efforts to protect Israel’s environment from harm.


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