A ‘changing of the guard’ is set on changing laws – a fear for the future
By David E. Kaplan
Israel does not have a Constitution. Nor does it have a two-tier system of government like in the US (a House of Representatives and Senate) that protects “We the People” by providing structural checks and balances.
Israel has just one house – the Knesset – but what it also has – and cherishes – is an internationally respected and sometimes envied Supreme Court that boldly protects ALL its citizens equally. The Israeli Supreme Court is not merely a magnificent building, it also provides a magnificent service. It is ‘designed’ not only to attract each year multitudes of tourists but to safeguard for all time – the rule of law.
Now however there are ominous forces in play that want not only metaphorically but to literally ‘change the rules’ that will undermine our esteemed Supreme Court posing a threat to civil liberties and minority rights. They are plotting nothing less than an overhaul or more accurately, an overrule by the legislature of the Supreme Court.
Where will the checks be against a – hardly an impossibility these days – reckless legislature without the constraints of the country’s judicial watchdog – a robust Supreme Court?
Yes, Bibi and his new coalition cohorts are on the warpath against the Supreme Court and let us not be fooled by their pretentions of “protecting” democracy. If Israeli democracy needs protecting, it needs protecting from THEM – the Prime Minister and his Justice Minister – Yariv Levin! Under the facile façade of “judicial reform”, the new ultra-right Likud government want the freedom to pursue what could be reckless agendas without any judicial obstacles and to provide as well, protection and immunity to wayward politicians – starting at the top with the Prime Minister himself facing serious criminal charges and then moving down his list of ‘the usual suspects’ in his cabinet. This cabinet includes the Vice Prime Minister serving as well as the Minister of Health and Minister of the Interior and Periphery, Aryeh Deri. Deri has also served time for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, convicted in 1999. Are ‘we the Israeli people’ expected to place our trust and our futures with convicted fraudsters?
Is it any wonder the protests have begun against Prime Minister Netanyahu and Justice Minister, Yariv Levin.
These protests are not a case of the “left having lost an election that they can’t come to terms with it” as rightwing journalists daily jibe but of Israelis who love and respect democracy but now fear losing it.
The protests on Saturday night the 7 January 2023, which drew more that 10,000 people to Habima Square in Tel Aviv – “is just one example,” writes the editor of The Jerusalem Report in his November 9 editorial “of how a large segment of the Israeli public finds these reforms scary and dangerous. People are afraid of the loss of basic civil rights.” The editorial continues, stressing that “Combined with extreme remarks made by some members of the new government about the LGBT community for example, their concerns are not “, as the Prime Minister refutes, “baseless.”
It’s all very well that our smooth-talking Prime Minster is trying to reassure an anxious half of the Israeli population that the claims of his proposed judicial reforms will lead to “the end of democracy” are “baseless”. But are they? After all, he too was once in opposition to the very reforms he now champions.
Does Netanyahu – who boasts frequently of how “smart” Israelis are – really believe that Israelis will be duped by the self-interest assertions of a Prime Minister facing criminal charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in bed with cabinet ministers who some themselves are convicted felons or hold extreme positions? Noting the caliber of the characters Netanyahu has assembled in his governing coalition, are we really to expect that these reforms will be carried out as he asserts “responsibly” and in a “level-headed manner”?
Who is the Prime Mister kidding? Not any people I know.
And who is Netanyahu listening to? It appears only to himself, while at least one person who he should be listening to is his greatest supporter abroad, emeritus Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
“If I were in Israel I would be joining the protests,” Dershowitz told Israel’s Army Radio, referring to the protest attended by thousands in Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Asserting that “It would be a tragedy to see the Supreme Court weakened,” he cautioned that “It will make it much more difficult for people like me who try to defend Israel in the international court of public opinion to defend it effectively [in the future].”
It was a surprise awakening to hear Dershowitz – who has written bestselling books supporting Israeli policies and is close to Netanyahu – to so forcefully oppose the proposed judicial reforms. Dershowitz added he had informed Netanyahu of his “very strong” opposition to the reforms, warning they would also expose Israel to legal challenges by global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.
Even Israel’s president, a position largely ceremonial, has joined in the public outcry to Netanyahu’s judicial reforms. Breaking his silence on Tuesday, President Isaac Herzog vowed to defend the country’s founding values expressing concern that the proposed reforms by Justice Minister Levin could violate the “moral compass of the country.”
Changes to Israel’s Supreme Court will be ‘supreme’ folly. At the moment the Prime Minister is not listening. It will be up to an awakening public to shout louder.
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