​This Op-ed was originally published by TomDispatch

On July 24th, the Israeli Knesset passed a measure forbidding the country's High Court of Justice from in any way checking the power of the government, whether in making cabinet decisions or appointments, based on what's known as the "reasonability" standard. In the Israeli context, this was an extreme act, since right-wing parliamentarians were defying massive crowds that had, for months on end, demonstrated with remarkable determination against such radical legislation. And that measure was only one part of a wide-ranging redesign of the court system unveiled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January, which deeply alarmed his critics.

As exemplified by prominent world historian Yuval Noah Harari, such protestors warned that limiting the functions of the highest court, in a land with a parliamentary system largely lacking other checks and balances, represented a big stride toward a future autocracy. After all, dangers abound in a nation with a one-chamber legislature, lacking the equivalent of a Senate, that elects the prime minister as the instrument of its will.

The central motivation for that legislation, however, lay not in domestic politics but in the desire of extremists in the cabinet to ensure that the courts won't be able to interfere with their plans to vastly increase the number of Israeli squatter-settlements on Palestinian land on the West Bank and perhaps someday soon simply annex that occupied territory. Under such circumstances, members of the far-right Religious Zionist Party were recently excoriated by Tamir Pardo, a former head of Israeli intelligence, as Israel's "Ku Klux Klan."

Reasonability, Fraud, and Occupation

The Israeli supreme court had invoked what's called "the reasonableness doctrine," rooted in British common law, to strike down Netanyahu's January appointment of Aryeh Makhlouf Deri as Minister of Health and the Interior in his ever more extreme cabinet. Deri, a Moroccan-Israeli, leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, largely comprised of Mizrahim, or Jews of Middle Eastern ancestry, like himself. Deri has often been in trouble with the law. He was, in fact, given a three-year jail sentence in 1999 for fraud and bribery. In 2022, he was facing a possible conviction for tax fraud by the High Court of Justice, which could have resulted in jail time and a seven-year ban on political activity. According to the justices of that court, Deri promised to retire from politics to avoid being sentenced, a vow on which he later reneged.

Netanyahu managed to keep Shas in his current coalition despite its loss of that important cabinet seat. Indeed, he still needs its support to stay in power. Over time, the Shas Party has swung far to the right on the Israeli political spectrum, while taking an ever-harder line in favor of expanding Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, which Israel seized in 1967. It is now inhabited by some three million stateless Palestinians whose land continues to be usurped. The Shas leadership has shifted to ever stronger support for Jewish settlements on the West Bank in large part because of the increasing proportion of Israeli squatters there who hail from the Haredim or Ultra-Orthodox religious tradition. They had already become about a third of all West Bank settlers by 2017....

Read the full Op-ed on TomDispatch