Tel Aviv: Israel's Chief Justice came under fire on Friday from members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition, after she went public with concerns that Parliamentarians are trying to undercut the Supreme Court's authority.
   
The exchange reflects an increasingly charged atmosphere in Israeli politics around what government opponents say is a concerted effort to undermine Israeli democracy.
   
Hawkish members of Netanyahu's Likud party accuse the court of a liberal bias, while the court's defenders say that nationalists are attacking the independence of a key guardian
of Israeli democracy.
   
In the most recent development, Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch made a public statement attacking her critics, a departure from the general understanding that senior members
of the judiciary remain as much as possible above politics.
   
Likud lawmakers accused her of inappropriate behaviour. "I am saddened by the fact that Beinisch, who has long spoken in favour of the separation of powers, has shown such a
fundamental misunderstanding of democracy and forgotten that the public elected its representatives to Parliament so that they would legislate," governing coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin said.
   
"According to the Chief Justice, it would seem that the Supreme Court ought to replace the legislature or at least serve as its censor," Elkin said.
   
The day before, Beinisch had made a rare public statement at a law conference, in which she accused politicians of trying to delegitimise the court.
   
"This is a delegitimisation campaign headed by several politicians, lawmakers and even government ministers, who propagate false and misleading information that has reached
the point of incitement against the courts, its Judges and its judicial undertakings," she said, choking back emotion.
   
Although she did not mention anyone by name, it was clear that Beinisch was referring to a series of recent legislative initiatives backed by Elkin and others in the nationalist coalition in power since 2009.
   
Earlier this week, Parliament gave preliminary approval to a bill that would change the makeup of the panel assigned to select Supreme Court justices -- a bill opponents see as trying to stack the committee, currently made up of Judges, lawyers and politicians, in the government's favour.
   
Another bill, which Netanyahu says he opposes but was promoted by members of his Likud Party, would let Parliament veto Supreme Court candidates.
   
Yet another bill, which would restrict petitions to the Supreme Court by private groups, was rejected by a ministerial committee on Sunday.

(Agencies)