In recent weeks, Israel has witnessed a piercing public debate about the intention of the Netanyahu government to carry out a comprehensive reform of the legal system in Israel. On the one hand, the opponents, most of whom are identified with the political Left, claim that the plan is actually a regime coup that will lead Israel to the loss of democracy and turn it into a dictatorship, no less.
On the other hand, the supporters of the plan claim that the changes are necessary in view of the strengthening of the judicial authority vis-à-vis the executive and legislative authorities, which led to an imbalance and the actual elimination of the separation of powers in the country.
The opposition camp was joined – as expected – by most civil society organizations, closed elitist cliques and unions (retired commanders, security personnel, judges and lawyers, reserve pilots, and politicians and public figures belonging to the same branch) and media in Israel. The latter went to the battlefield while trying to help lead loud public pressure against the incumbent government in any way possible.
The highlight event, so far, of the opponents came last Saturday night in the form of a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv. The demonstration received indulgent and supportive media coverage, designed to exert maximum pressure on the government, including promos on the news channels, pompous headlines, live breaking news, live updates on the Telegram channels and on Twitter about every protester who arrived on the scene, exciting selfies of enthusiastic journalists who came to cover the demonstration and more.
In the face of this massive pressure campaign – with the help of international factors – the current government must not surrender. Most of the Israeli public came out en masse to vote in free and democratic elections exactly in favor of the measures we are hearing about these days.
In the end, in order to restore the balance in the separation of authorities in Israel, it is necessary to curb the legal system that has gained unimaginable power following the judicial coup carried out by the former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak without any struggle on the part of the Knesset and the government. The desire now of the current Netanyahu government and Minister of Justice Yariv Levin is to return the situation to the way it was before.
And here the question arises: did democracy not exist in Israel until 1993, when the illegal changes were made in the relations between the authorities? It certainly existed and therefore the hysterical outcry of the Left camp does not reflect reality.
Furthermore, most of the changes in Levin’s plan are intended to strengthen the separation of powers and to give a broader expression to the elected officials sent to parliament by the people. This is at the expense of government officials and judges who are not elected and who have no responsibility for their rulings or actions but still enjoy powerful and unprecedented powers.
This need was understood even in the Left camp in 1993, when the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin – with the help of the Meretz party and Aharon Barak itself – added an override clause to the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation. Finally, it is important to remember that the original purpose of the court was to resolve conflicts and struggles between the citizens of the country in a peaceful manner in accordance with the law of the state and not to interfere in the government’s policy, let alone not to legislate themselves.
And what about the way the judges are chosen? Isn’t it appropriate that the judges do not choose themselves? Is there a more legitimate and reasonable demand that elected officials from the executive and legislative branches be the ones to choose the judges, alongside the representatives of the judges on the committee, whose voices will, of course, be heard?
Levin’s proposal regarding changing the appointment of the president of the Supreme Court, abolishing the seniority system, is also important and necessary. Why, therefore, should the president of the Supreme Court be appointed according to his seniority and not according to his qualifications? Would we like to see a business owner or organization that would promote employees or managers only because of their seniority, while hardworking, professional and more suitable employees are left behind?
The government’s plan also includes a reference to the cancellation of the reasonableness standard. Today, this pretext allows the court to invalidate and frustrate the decisions of the elected echelon by vague and abstract means. The magic word unreasonable is enough to damage the policy that the minister is trying to promote. Since they are flesh-and-blood judges, despite the beautiful cloak and aura surrounding their position, there is no reason to assume that they better understand than others what is a reasonable decision and what is unreasonable.
Rather, such a determination should be accepted by a broad consensus, from a person with responsibility accompanying his powers, who was sent to his position by the people and who received a mandate from the citizens to represent them and promote the view of their faith – of course, in accordance with the laws of the state.
Opponents of the plan also complain about the intention to turn the legal adviser from a professional position into a position of trust. However, this is a necessary step since the role of the legal adviser, as the name indicates, is to advise the minister on the correct legal way to promote his decisions and policies.
The fact that the adviser will become a personal appointment does not mean that the minister will break the law or that the legal adviser will allow him to do so – obviously, the adviser will act in accordance with the laws of the state. Otherwise, the goal is to streamline and simplify the decision-making processes in the government ministries, which today are sometimes thwarted and slandered by legal advisers who do not like the minister’s policy and are not enthusiastic to help promote it, to say the least.
If so, the government’s plan for changes in the judicial system not only does not harm democracy, it is intended to restore and strengthen the democratic foundations in the state that have eroded and even disappeared in recent decades since the undemocratic judicial revolution. Hence, the threats and intimidation of the Left camp regarding the end of democracy are not aimed at the necessary changes in the judicial system, but refer to the very existence of the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The issue is not the reform of the judicial system but a lack of readiness and willingness to accept the people’s decision and the democratic results of the latest elections. The irony is that the very same people who claimed against Netanyahu that he was dragging Israel into repeated rounds of elections, now disavow the results of the elections that were held only two months ago and demand a rematch. In other words, they want to drag Israel into further elections. Is there a limit to their hypocrisy and duplicity?
The writer is a researcher and an Israeli publicist. He also holds a PhD in political studies.