A critical crossroads - opinion

If the judicial reform legislation passes by April 2, then Israel will be a step before a serious constitutional crisis.

 PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu is believed to be aware that should he decide to put the brakes on the process, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin might well decide to resign. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu is believed to be aware that should he decide to put the brakes on the process, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin might well decide to resign.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The developments of the next two weeks will, to a large extent, decide in which direction we shall be proceeding in the foreseeable future.

Why two weeks? Because in two weeks’ time, the Knesset will be going out to its spring recess. If it were completely up to Justice Minister Yariv Levin and chairperson of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Simcha Rothman, the pack of new legislation the two of them initiated, and have been promoting in the last two months – dealing with Israel’s judicial system and judicial review of the government and the Knesset – will pass second and third reading no later than Sunday, April 2.

If this scenario takes place – and technically it is quite feasible that it will, even if MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud) persists in his refusal to vote with the government – then we shall be but a step before a serious constitutional crisis.

What do we mean by a constitutional crisis?

Should the new legislation be passed by April 2, in all likelihood there will be numerous petitions to the High Court of Justice with the request that the court should declare the legislation to be unconstitutional on grounds that it endangers Israel’s liberal democratic system of government.

It is expected that if this happens, the court will most likely accept at least some of the petitions, and since the government is unlikely to accept the court’s rulings, the result will be that all the state’s government and security authorities will have to decide whether to abide by the court’s ruling or the government’s policy, and this might well lead to chaos.

 LIKUD PARTY head Benjamin Netanyahu, Oct. 3. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) LIKUD PARTY head Benjamin Netanyahu, Oct. 3. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Only if the government decides to put the brakes on the whole process before the Knesset goes into recess, will this scenario be prevented, or at least delayed.

What are the chances of this happening?

There are many who believe that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decides to do this, he can. But here emerges the question: at this moment in time does he really have the ability, power, and most important of all, the will, to embark on such a journey?

It is generally assumed that Netanyahu is basically a pragmatist, and that he is aware of the dangers that loom ahead should the proposed legislation actually turn into law in its current form. He is also believed to be aware of the fact that should he decide to put the brakes on the process, and insist on a major effort being made, with or without the opposition, to soften the current bills, (whether on the basis of the outline published last Wednesday by President Isaac Herzog, or one of the other outlines that is floating around) Levin might well decide to resign, and all hell will break loose in the coalition.

The real balance of power within the coalition in general and the Likud in particular, on the issue of the legal reform (as they refer to it) is not clear. All recent opinion polls carried out by the various TV channels in the last week show Netanyahu’s coalition losing votes, and all except that of Channel 14 show him actually losing his majority.

This is largely due to the legal reform, though some of the recent gaffes by various members of the government, and the fact that personal security and the rising cost of living are nowhere near being brought under control, might also have contributed.

Efforts to organize counter-demonstrations to the impressive demonstrations being held against the legal revolution (as the opposition refers to the government’s reform proposals) have failed dismally. In my view, this indicates that it’s not only a majority in the general population that seems to have serious reservations about what is going on and are willing to go quite far in their efforts to thwart the government’s efforts. It also shows that even within the coalition there are many who have qualms about it.

Though in several of my recent articles I have called upon Netanyahu to take control of the situation, and do everything in his power to stop the social and political rift within our society, I must admit that I frequently have doubts as to whether he is still capable of assuming full control, or whether he has “lost it.” One of the worrying signs is that he seems unable to get Levin and Rothman to budge from their rigid positions, or even to slow down the process.

I am also concerned about Netanyahu’s inclination to lie and invent facts to suit his agenda, something which seems to be getting worse, and more frequent. For example, he has recently claimed on several occasions, that he had opposed the disengagement in Gush Katif in 2005, even though as a member of Arik Sharon’s Government he voted in favor of the disengagement on all the votes except the last one in the Knesset, when he also resigned from the government.

He also claimed that he had led the opposition during the disengagement, even though in the relevant period it was Tommy Lapid (Yair’s father) who was leader of the opposition. Netanyahu served as leader of the opposition only after Kadima was formed by Sharon, and what remained of the Likud then went into opposition, under Netanyahu’s leadership. He served as leader of the opposition from the end of January to the middle of April 2006 – the withdrawal from Gush Katif ended in the middle of August 2005.

A more embarrassing and even worrying event occurred when in a recent cabinet meeting Netanyahu referred (twice in a row) to “the extremists, who are leading the reform...,” whereas he intended to say “the extremists who are leading the demonstrations.” That is not a lie, (some might even say that it is the truth...) but in Netanyahu’s case it is a cognitive error.

Netanyahu has the next two weeks to prove whether he is capable of getting on top of the events, or whether he is either unwilling or unable to do so. For the sake of the State of Israel, I pray that it is the former.

I should like to end on an optimistic note. Last Thursday I went to the Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem to search for some spices and herbal tea infusions. I had intended that morning, against the background of the demonstrations, to wear a red sweater, but then thought the better of it, since I felt that in the traditionally pro-Likud market, a red sweater might be considered a provocation.

I approached several spice stands before finding what I was looking for. In each of the stands I also asked the salesmen whether they would have been perturbed or angered had I decided to arrive wearing a red sweater. They all smiled back at me, and answered that Israel is a free country, and one can believe whatever one wants to believe. Not a single one of them made a nasty comment, and one actually offered me a discount. Not what I had expected, and definitely a pleasant surprise.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.