Israeli lawmakers recently passed a controversial law to weaken the Supreme Court, a move that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not publicly celebrate. Instead, it was Justice Minister Yariv Levin who took the spotlight, posing for selfies and delivering a celebratory speech. While Netanyahu is seen as the face of the judicial overhaul to the world, it is Levin who has been the main champion of the law. His influence within Netanyahu’s coalition has raised questions about the prime minister’s true grip on power and has led to speculation that Levin could potentially succeed him.
Levin has always been a proponent of judicial change, and his goal of reshaping the judiciary has been evident since his maiden speech to Parliament in 2009. His popularity within Netanyahu’s party, Likud, is one of the reasons why the prime minister has pushed ahead with the judicial overhaul, despite the severe domestic crisis it has caused. Levin’s political outlook was shaped during his upbringing among prominent right-wing leaders, and his motivations for seeking judicial change reflect the wider dispute over how to build a state that is both Jewish and democratic.
Throughout his career, Levin has consistently proposed overhauling the Supreme Court’s membership and diminishing its role because he believes it does not prioritize Israel’s Jewish character. As a hard-line nationalist who opposes Palestinian statehood, he has criticized the court for various reasons, such as allowing Arab families to move to Jewish neighborhoods, evicting Israelis from Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, and permitting Palestinians to use a major highway in the West Bank previously restricted to Israeli citizens. Levin’s goal is to restore the justice system to a “classic Zionist track” and give the Jewish character of the state more weight.
Levin’s upbringing and personal experiences have played a significant role in shaping his political outlook. His association with right-wing leaders and his family’s involvement in the Altalena episode during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war have left him resentful of the establishment and the elites. These experiences fueled his resentment towards the Supreme Court, which he viewed as a symbol of judicial activism.
It was only in recent years that Levin’s calls for judicial change were taken seriously within the coalition. When Netanyahu offered him the justice ministry in 2015, Levin declined because he feared coalition allies would hinder his vision. However, when Netanyahu formed a government dominated by right-wing and nationalist members, Levin finally had the opportunity to implement his plan. Despite facing mass protests and opposition, Levin remains determined to push forward with his proposed changes to the Supreme Court.
Levin’s position within the coalition has made him a valuable asset to Netanyahu. If the prime minister were to halt the overhaul, it could potentially trigger Levin’s resignation and lead to the collapse of the coalition. While some analysts believe the coalition could survive without Levin, Netanyahu is keen to keep him on his side due to his shrewdness and loyalty.
In conclusion, Yariv Levin’s influence within the coalition and his determination to reshape the judiciary have made him a prominent figure in Israeli politics. His proposed changes to the Supreme Court have sparked controversy and domestic unrest, raising questions about Netanyahu’s hold on power and fueling speculation about Levin’s political future. Despite facing public opposition, Levin remains steadfast in his pursuit of a judicial system that prioritizes Israel’s Jewish character.