Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition signaled on Tuesday that for the sake of national unity with Israel at war, it was not planning any immediate countermove against a Supreme Court decision striking down the government’s signature campaign to rein in the court’s powers.
Across the Israeli political divide, supporters and opponents of Mr. Netanyahu’s plan stressed the need to avoid domestic upheaval while military forces are trying to eliminate Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Mr. Netanyahu’s allies, while critical of the ruling handed down by the court on Monday, notably refrained from announcing any attempts to re-litigate the issue.
With its muted reaction on Tuesday to a momentous Supreme Court judgment a day earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition has signaled that it is not planning any immediate legislative retort — at least so long as Israel is at war in Gaza.
The judges on Monday struck down a law that Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition passed last year to limit the judiciary’s powers, part of a broader overhaul intended to put more power in the hands of the government.
There were no indications of imminent plans to put forward new legislation and, instead, Mr. Netanyahu’s allies said they would prioritize national unity. After months of tumultuous street protests exposing deep societal rifts, the government had already put the rest of the divisive plan on hold at the start of the war in October.
Acknowledging the “pain” felt in the right-wing camp by Monday’s decision, Miki Zohar, a minister from Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, wrote on social media, “It is our duty at this time to bite our lips, act responsibly and preserve the unity of the people.”
The law annulled by an 8-7 court majority was an amendment to a Basic Law, which has a quasi-constitutional status in Israel. It barred Supreme Court judges from using a particular legal standard to overturn government decisions and appointments.
Supporters of the government said the standard — reasonableness — was ill-defined and used subjectively to subvert the will of the voters and elected politicians. Opponents of the government said it was an essential tool in exercising judicial review in a country that lacks a formal constitution. The judges are supposed to use the standard only to countermand extremely unreasonable decisions.
With that contentious law now off the books, said Prof. Suzie Navot, an expert in constitutional law and vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent research group, “things are now back to normal.”
For now, a head-on clash between the government and the court, she said, is likely to come only “if the government or any of its ministers make an extremely unreasonable decision.”
If the court then intervenes, she said, “we may have a constitutional problem.”
But legal experts said the far more consequential part of Monday’s Supreme Court ruling was the broader decision that, contrary to the government’s position, justices have the authority to strike down Basic Laws if they harm the fundamental tenets of the Jewish and democratic character of the state.
That precedent-setting part of the ruling passed by an overwhelming majority of 12 of the court’s 15 justices, with a 13th wavering. The majority included liberals and conservatives alike, seriously undermining the government’s judicial agenda.
“This is perhaps the most important ruling in the history of the country,” Professor Navot said, because it places limits on the power of the Parliament and government. At more than 740 pages in Hebrew, she added, Monday’s court decision may also be the longest.
All 15 justices ruled on the case, a first in the court’s history. Two of those justices — including the departing chief justice, Esther Hayut — retired in October and have not yet been replaced.
The justice minister, Yariv Levin, a main architect of the government’s judicial overhaul plan, has been determined to change the method of selecting judges to allow politicians greater say. He has refused to convene the committee that selects new judges in its current format, holding up the process. It is unclear when that will change.
The months of protests and the Supreme Court decision may have “set the judicial overhaul back many, many years,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
For now, she said, the government has “no legitimacy to lead any such legislation.” One of the main conditions of Mr. Netanyahu’s centrist rivals in joining his emergency wartime government, she noted, was the shelving of any next steps in the judicial overhaul for the duration of the fighting.
Eventually, though, Mr. Netanyahu, could exploit this week’s court ruling to drum up right-wing support for the next election, Ms. Talshir said.
Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity has plummeted since the surprise Hamas assault on Israel on Oct. 7 that touched off the war. The court decision could give him a right-wing tailwind to get back into power based on the same logic as his government’s original judicial overhaul plan, Ms. Talshir said: “That the unelected judges overruled the elected government.”