A proposal to reform the Israeli judicial system has led to protests in Jerusalem. Despite pleas from President Isaac Herzog, tens of thousands of Israelis from around the country demonstrated outside the Knesset earlier this week.
“We came to demonstrate against the very aggressive legislation, which is going to turn Israel from a liberal democracy into a fascist dictatorship,” Eliad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government, alleged.
But Shraga’s language doesn’t match up with the facts of what’s actually being proposed in the Middle East’s only true democracy.
Background of reform debate
Reform supporters say opponents are primarily from leftist parties upset with a historic conservative victory in four of the five previous national elections. The protestors have assembled a coalition of LGBT and pro-abortion activists, anti-Netanyahu groups, communist and socialist parties, as well as radical Palestinian groups who are on record saying they want an end to modern-day Israel.
Those are strange bedfellows for Israeli protesters whose signs say they’re saving democracy and human rights, say Israeli citizens who support the reforms.
Rabbi Dov Fischer retired from a long career in law and now lives in Israel. He served as as a litigator at some of the largest American law firms, as the cheif editor at the UCLA Law Review and was a former clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals. He believes the reforms are necessary for the survival of democracy.
Writing for the Jewish News Syndicate, Fischer states that, under the previous Chief Justice, the court “declared itself empowered to overthrow laws and enact its own laws based on such concepts as ‘reasonableness.’ Thus, whatever seems ‘reasonable’ to a small coterie of justices can become law without voter participation in the process, superseding the popularly elected Knesset. This is outrageous because, axiomatically, reasonable minds differ.”
Fisher points out that the court’s justices have the extraordinary power to block replacement candidates when an opening arises. In effect, they can virtually choose their own replacements.
He reminds readers that Israel is built on the British model of democracy. Israel has no constitution and isntead relies on the Knesset, or its parliament, to make laws.
Under the reforms, the Israeli Supreme Court will need to base its decisions on actual laws, instead of the current and abstract “reasonableness” concept they have unilaterally created without public consent.
Inside the Knesset, lawmakers introduced judicial reform legislation, which includes limiting Supreme Court power to overrule legislation and giving lawmakers more power over appointing judges.
“I feel, we all feel, that we are in a moment before a collision, even a violent collision, a barrel of explosives before a blast,” Herzog said. “The judiciary must be a home for the diversity of opinions in Israeli society. The fact that there is not enough diversity, for example, there are no judges of eastern origin in the Supreme Court, bothers me a lot.”
Many opponents of the Israeli reform efforts argue that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could use the changes to stop the corruption trial against him. Others fear it might lead to religious law being imposed though Netanyahu has repeatedly stood against expanded religious laws.
“The reason that there’s mistrust is because the minister of justice himself said that this reform was a four-story building reform and what we are seeing now is only the first floor,” said Yehuda Shaffer of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel. “For the people of Israel, the population here, there’s lack of transparency as to what the government is planning.”
Court overstepped its boundaries
Simcha Rothman, who heads the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, however, said the Supreme Court has overstepped its boundaries.
“The court is biased,” Rothman said. “The court is canceling legislation by the Knesset for political reasons and does not defend human rights. For all those reasons, we need to reform the courts.”
Rothman sees the changes as positive for all of Israel, from the economy to the fight against terrorism.
While groups that oppose Netanyahu and his ruling coalition that now governs the country protest, the truth may be lost in the slogans, according to many observers.
Fischer calls the protests hypocritical. “There is nothing particularly extreme about the Israeli government’s proposed reforms. Moreover, the hysterical protests against these reforms are hypocritical,” he contends. If it were a right-wing court imposing its rules based on “reasonable” assumption not grounded in law, ” the left would now be demanding these reforms,” he says.
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice