Israel has a constitution

It's time to stop misleading the public into thinking the country does not have one.

October 23, 2007 19:41
3 minute read.
Israel has a constitution

knesset seats 298.88 AJ. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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When will people stop yapping that Israel does not have a constitution? If there are people who really want to improve our constitutional law let them make their case. But it's time to stop bad-mouthing Israel by claiming we don't have a constitution. Israel does have a constitution - and a written one. Having a constitution isn't determined by whether there is one single, decorated, written document - or whether it was composed and accepted as one whole unit at a single moment of national, spiritual elation. Having a constitution is determined by its contents and standing within the judicial system. By applying this qualitative test, it is clear that Israel does have a written constitution, though it's neither complete nor consistent, but it is definitely a constitution in every sense of the word. Israel decided long ago that the constitution would be formed through a series of basic constitutional laws, stage-by-stage. So far, nine Basic Laws have been enacted over a period of 40 years. These laws deal with the government, Knesset, State Comptroller and judicial system, and delineate their relationships. There are also Basic Laws related to the role of the President and IDF. The Basic Laws also established the electoral system and define our system of democracy and government. WHAT HAS been missing for many years is the section on human rights - a Bill of Rights - which is a significant and key to any constitution. In 1992, when I was serving as the chairman of the Knesset's Committee for the constitution, Law and Justice, we passed two Basic Laws dealing with individual freedoms - the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, and the Basic Law: Occupational Freedom. Two people who especially contributed to the passing of these laws were Prof. Amnon Rubinstein and Knesset member Yitzhak Halevi. Both these Basic Laws are compact, but have broad implications. They also serve as Israel's essential Bill of Rights. Shortly before these laws were passed, Rutgers University Prof. Albert Blaustein, a renowned expert on constitutional law, published a book on world constitutions. He cited the fact that of the 170 nations in the world, only six don't have a written constitution. Of those six, three are Arab countries, including: Oman, Libya and Saudi Arabia, who claim that the Koran is their constitution. The other three are democratic countries, which adhere to the principle that their parliaments are the highest authorities in the legal system: Great Britain, New Zealand - and Israel. After reading his book, I sent him a translation of our two Basic Laws passed in 1992, dealing with human rights. He responded: "I cannot agree with you more. Of course Israel has a constitution." The right of judicial review by the courts - meaning the power to revoke regular laws that contradict the basic rights and freedoms as legislated in the Basic Laws - was granted intentionally to the Supreme Court by these two laws, similarly to the way it was granted to the US Supreme Court, and the results are satisfactory. Our constitution still lacks a few basic freedoms: Expressions of the right to equality and freedom of religious practice are still missing. The basic principles found in the 11 Basic Laws aren't entirely consistent. Some of the Basic Laws can be changed by a regular majority vote in the Knesset, some by special majorities of 61 or 70 Knesset members. However, this doesn't mean that we don't have a written constitution. We have a constitution that must be completed. Anyone who'd like to do that should drop all pretenses that they are about to enact or deliver a fresh constitution to the State of Israel. So, let's have no more superficial statements about Israel not having a constitution. The only thing which needs to be done is to complete and improve an existing constitution. The author served in the 12th Knesset as the chairman of the Committee for the Constitution, Law and Justice.

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