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Israel feverishly awaits Supreme Court hearing on judicial overhaul

Anti-government protesters have skirmished with police outside the home of Israel’s justice minister ahead of a historic Supreme Court session over efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition to curb its judicial powers.

The scuffles occurred on Monday, exactly 24 hours before Israel’s entire 15-judge Supreme Court bench convenes for the first time in its history.

The apex court will hear an appeal against the judicial amendment passed by Mr Netanyahu’s mainly far-right coalition in July.

Attempts to reach agreements between Mr Netanyahu and his opponents over the contested judicial overhaul plan have so far been fruitless. This has only added to fears that Israel’s worst crisis in years will only deepen with the court petitioned to quash legislation by politicians who accuse it of overreaching its powers.

Analysts say despite the heightened rhetoric, a ruling from the Supreme Court could happen as late as January, 2024, leaving time for the sides to reach agreements on judicial reforms; thereby granting a possible reprieve after months of protests and signalling stability to the markets.

If compromises are not reached, the embattled prime minister could opt to present a scaled back version of the original plan.

The scuffles broke out as police moved to control crowds gathering outside the house of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, one of the main architects of the plan, with footage showing demonstrators blocking the minister’s car.

A big demonstration is expected outside the Supreme Court later on Monday.

The appellants in Tuesday’s hearing – opposition lawmakers and watchdog groups – say the amendment removes vital democratic checks and balances and invites abuses of power.

They also argue that the relatively rushed legislation process itself was flawed.

In its legal response to the petitions, the government has said that the Supreme Court has no authority to even review the so-called “reasonableness” amendment to a quasi-constitutional Basic Law, arguing that the debate could “lead to anarchy”.

A recent Reuters report said PM Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition launched its judicial campaign in January, sparking the unprecedented protests, spooking investors and sending the national currency, the shekel down, as Israel’s Western allies voiced concern for the health of its democracy.