Israeli NGO presents constitution as alternative to judicial reform

“We’re going to put a constitution on the table,” said MQG leader Dr. Eliad Shraga. “We as a movement want to set the agenda.”

Eliad Shraga, Lawyer and founder of the Movement for the Quality of Government speaks during a protest for the opening of a committee of inquiry for the so-called submarine affair, outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2022 (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Eliad Shraga, Lawyer and founder of the Movement for the Quality of Government speaks during a protest for the opening of a committee of inquiry for the so-called submarine affair, outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2022
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQG) on Thursday presented a new proposal for an Israeli constitution.

“After 75 years, it’s time for a constitution for the State of Israel,” which would fix Israel’s government system, protect human rights and enshrine the Declaration of Independence, MQG head Eliad Shraga said during a press conference at the group’s judicial reform protest tent in front of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. The movement presented the proposal to President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday night, he said.

The Homeland Constitution

The “Homeland Constitution” would codify Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with a parliament, a provision that cannot be altered. Jerusalem would be set as the state’s capital, “Hatikva” as the national anthem, the blue stripes and Magen David as the flag and the menorah and olive branches as a national symbol. Hebrew would be the official language, but Arabic would have special status. State holidays such as Independence Day are listed in the document.

The state would have a special mission to serve as a homeland of the Jewish people and to protect their cultural and religious heritage. Likewise, the state must protect the country’s environment and natural resources for the benefit and enjoyment of its citizens. The state must also protect rights, including life, liberty and equality under law, education, privacy and freedom of expression, movement and assembly.

“All citizens of the State of Israel will be equal in their obligations, including military/civilian service, paying taxes and obeying the law, as well as exercising their rights as individuals in society,” Shraga said about the bill of rights and obligations in the constitution.

In addition to ingathering all the Basic Laws into one document, he said the constitution would create a greater separation of powers, including independence of the courts. The Judicial Selection Committee, in contrast to the reform plan that would create a majority of elected officials, would have judicial representatives continue to select judges. Religious courts would not have authority over civil matters to prevent the creation of parallel legal systems. The Attorney-General’s Office would also retain its independence.

The Knesset would also be strengthened in relation to the executive branch, which Shraga said was created through a historic mistake.

“The Knesset will be strengthened by the fact that it will be able to monitor the government and vote no confidence in it,” he said. “The members of the Knesset will be able to propose private bills without being dependent on the goodwill of the government, and the Knesset will also monitor the government through the budget and through parliamentary committees of inquiry.”

According to the document, the Knesset would be stabilized through provisions that prevent MKs from jumping from party to party, which Shraga said had led to the dissolution of the last Knesset.

The executive would in turn be ostensibly fortified by abolition of the alternate government mechanism and two-term limits for prime ministers, similar to US presidents. Ministers would also be limited to 18 with four deputies and no split ministries. People could not be in the government as convicted criminals.

“Time after time in the last 30 years,” politicians engaging in corruption have returned to office, Shraga said.

The proposed constitution was presented as part of the principles and conditions formulated in collaboration with senior legal experts in response to the negotiation outline promoted in recent days. Shraga said he had met with President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday night and said the proposal represented the anti-reformist camp’s values and that of the hundreds of thousands of people that have been protesting in recent days.

Former justice minister Daniel Friedmann presented his outline on Wednesday, and Herzog announced that he was drafting an outline on Monday.

On Monday, Shraga told The Jerusalem Post Herzog’s outline was not a reasonable starting point for negotiation because it accepted all the coalition’s positions.

'We want to set the agenda'

“We do not compromise on democratic and liberal values, and we will not negotiate on the rule of law or the supremacy of the law,” he said Thursday.

“We’re going to put a constitution on the table,” Shraga told the Post on Monday, ahead of the official announcement. “We as a movement want to set the agenda.”

The proposed constitution would serve as a basis for negotiation, he said.

Former Supreme Court deputy president Ayala Procaccia on Thursday said the legislation should be frozen, and a team should be established to examine the constitution.

“Improvements are necessary in the legal system, especially in the administration of the judiciary,” she said at the press conference. “Buttressing the Jewish-democratic character of the regime [was needed] so that it cannot be easily changed by a newly elected government.”

On Monday, Shraga said: In a democratic state, we need rigid “rules of the game,” and the “lack of a constitution is our biggest problem.”

Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws could be changed very easily, and if the reform plan was implemented, it could become even easier, he said.

“We’re going to face a crisis, but on the other hand, we need to take advantage of the crisis, and this is an opportunity as well,” Shraga said.

Others have seen the crisis as an opportunity to introduce a constitution. Former deputy attorney-general Dina Zilber, Prof. Yaniv Roznai, Prof. Barak Medina, other legal experts and several anti-reform protest organizations in mid-February proposed the Independence Initiative, which they also hoped would set the agenda and serve as a negotiation basis for reform. The Israel Democracy Institute also proposed a plan on February 13 that would renew the constitutional process.

Former Mossad director Tamir Pardo on Thursday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided to remove an important “iron wall” check by attacking the judiciary.

“We should be looking forward,” he said. “Before the legislation begins, the foundations should be laid – the fundamental principles for negotiations for embarking on a new path. The national constitution we have presented, on one simple and clear page, is our basis because we have no other country.”