The Israeli Supreme Court is coming under fire every time a ruling is issued that in the eyes of politicians is unacceptable.
Since the time of Menachem Begin, who strongly believed in the importance and independence of the Israeli Judicial system and accepted its rulings even if the court went directly against Government decisions (remember Eilon Moreh?), public figures have become more and more blatant in their condemnation of rulings that are not to their liking.
The latest outcry was caused by the ruling that the law “regulating” the draft of Haredi religious youngsters in unacceptable because it results in inequality and the government will either have to come up with a new law or draft all Haredi men.
In a democratic society it is allowed and acceptable to disagree with court rulings but the slander that was heaped on the Supreme Court by in particular Haredi and right-wing politicians, went way beyond criticism. Arye Deri, minister of the Interior, called the Supreme Court “disconnected” from the Jewish people, Knesset member Eliezer Moses, called the decision ”proof” of how cut off the SC is from Jewish tradition, while Health minister Yaakov Litzman called the decision discriminatory against Haredim.
In other instances, such as the ruling on the illegal immigrants, even harsher expressions were used.
Voices in the Knesset to reign in the powers of the Supreme Court are becoming stronger and with every ruling not to their liking, the outcries of mostly religious and right-wing Knesset members become louder.
Attempts were made already to allow the Knesset to overrule decisions by the Supreme Court and, while they did not yet succeed, the current political situation in Israel makes the likelihood of this happening larger and larger.
So why is this happening? Why the growing dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court and its actions?
The Supreme Court (the judiciary) is one of the three pillars of democracy, with the legislature and the government the two others. Together, these governing bodies must make decisions, execute those decisions, and make sure that these decisions are within the boundaries of the law.
For the religious parties this is the core of the problem. They will have problems with this or another ruling, but the real issue is the fact that the Supreme Court is a remnant of what was once a Democratic State and is standing in the way of those who are intend on breaking it down completely.
Both the Haredi parties who are mostly interested in the money that the State can supply them with, and the “Zionist” religious parties, have a common goal: To make Israel into a Jewish State, inhabited by Jews only, controlled by Jews only, and most of all, ruled according to Jewish Law. The Supreme Court still looks at Israel as a pluralistic society where all citizens have the same rights, and, while Jewish tradition is important to them, it must come second to the Rule of Law.
The right-wing Knesset members look at the fact that they are part of a majority coalition as an excellent opportunity to move nationalistic agendas forward, in particular with respect to the occupied territories and the people living there, both Jews and Arabs. They realize that many of their plans and ideas trample on such basic values as Human Rights, disregard International Law, and disregard the fact that Israel has signed on to many International Conventions, but their argument is simple: we are the majority, so who cares? And then the Supreme Court steps in. It (still) has the power to stop Israel when it acts against International Law, when it violates Human Rights, or even when it just bullies the local (Arab) population.
Most other Knesset members in the current coalition, are too busy furthering their own interest to have time to look after such trivialities as the needs of the population, but in their own interest they had better toe the line that the Prime Minister draws for them. So when the time comes to vote, they will do whatever they are told and thus can continue to enjoy the perks of being a “representative” of the people. And then, when the Supreme Court draws the line differently and tells them they crossed red lines, they will rant when they are told to rant.
The Supreme Court is the last holdout of Democracy in Israel. The last place where justice is meted out based on Democratic laws, not theocratic ones. And this also means that Jewish rights are being protected, as long as they are within the limits of the Law.
It is in the interest of all to preserve the Rule of Law and have a trusted independent body (which the Supreme Court is) correct us when we go astray. Evaluation of its functioning is legitimate and important and changes may well be desirable but the Supreme Court must remain the embodiment of Justice according to Democratic Rules. Without that we will quickly slip into the abyss of theocracy and maybe worse.
“Jewish State” and “Democratic State” can work out only if we are first Democratic and after that Jewish. A Democracy has the ability and the duty to allow a plurality of views, also as far as religion goes. So if everybody wants to be Jewish that’s fine. But also if some of us want to be not Jewish, or “different” Jewish, that is fine too! The Law is the same for everyone and everyone has to respect the Law. If after you respect the Law, you want to subject or limit yourself with other laws and rules that is your business. In a Democracy that is possible and there are some real good examples to prove it. In a Jewish State it is not possible to be different or behave different or maybe even think different (Neither is that possible in a Muslim or Christian State for that matter). Thus, in a Democratic State you can have the best of both worlds, but in a Jewish State you can only have the best of the Jewish World. And only when we have “Judges in Jerusalem” we will indeed have the best. The choice is obvious isn’t it?
Or is it?