The struggle is not over, it’s not even in a “wait and see” mode. The fight must go on. Israel needs judicial reforms, very serious reforms. Our democracy is false for large sectors of our society. There are many Israelis who don’t enjoy equal rights and opportunities. Our judicial system fails to uphold true democracy.
The reforms that we need are not at all what Yariv Levin and the Israeli government have been trying to pass. In fact, they are radically different. If the Israeli public has finally woken up to the faults in our challenged democracy, then I believe the time has come to launch the struggle for real democracy in Israel. I will try to spell out some of the changes I think we need in Israel.
I will relate to the area known as the sovereign state of Israel and not to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967. What I propose is for all of those who live under Israeli sovereignty, including the 380,000 Palestinians in east Jerusalem.
Nonetheless, it should be clear that a true democracy cannot allow for the governing over millions of people by military law and military government without even the most basic civil and human rights. It is not only non-democratic and in fact prevents Israel from being a true democracy, it is also immoral and unjust.
But I will focus on the changes we need to make with regards to the more than nine million Israeli citizens and the Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem. If after five years from the adoption of a constitution based on equality, the Israeli occupation still continues, then the constitution should apply to all of those people living under Israeli control.
We need a constitution which sets forth the basic human and civil rights of all citizens and defines the relationship between the state (the government and governmental institutions) and the people. The first principle is equality. There is no real democracy without equality for all citizens, and that must be the backbone of any democratic constitution. This should have been done during Israel’s first Knesset which was in fact delegated with this mission.
A constitutional law for equality should have been adopted within the law known as the Basic Law for Human Dignity and Freedom, but it was not. Now is the time to work hard to finally make it happen.
The constitution should be negotiated and accepted by a special majority in the Knesset which could be something like 2/3 of the members of the Knesset or a simple majority of the ruling coalition and a simple majority of the opposition. Amending the constitution once it is approved should also require a special majority similar to what is required to pass it.
The most important part of the constitution must be the bill of rights. In the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights is essentially the first ten amendments of the Constitution. The US Bill of Rights includes freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids promoting one religion over others and also forbids restricting an individual’s religious practices.
It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting or restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.
Like the practice in Israel, the US provides for civilian rule over the military, meaning essentially that the military is ruled over by the elected civilian powers and not a general or a group of generals. There is also the notion that “each person’s home is their castle,” secure from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government. It protects against arbitrary arrests, and is the basis of the law regarding search warrants, stop-and-frisk, safety inspections, wiretaps, and other forms of surveillance.
IN THE US there is a requirement for “due process of law” and a provision which requires the government to compensate citizens when it takes private property for public use. The US Constitution also secures the separation of branches of government and what is urgently important for Israel, the system of checks and balances to ensure that one branch of government does not take over the other branches.
We cannot simply copy and paste from the US Constitution or any other constitution. We need a constitution which is uniquely Israeli and relates to our specific circumstances. The first essential statement of our constitution must be the equality of all citizens regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, etc. as stated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
Every Israeli citizen must be equal under the law: Jews, Palestinian citizens, secular, religious, haredi, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, Ethiopian, Muslims, Druze, Christians, all citizens. The constitution must guarantee the rights of all citizens which would automatically put an end to all kinds of non-democratic practices that exist today.
For example, there could not be political parties that exclude the participation of women. Communities would no longer have the right to veto the possibility of someone from a different community living in their midst.
Our constitution should also (once again) make the official languages of Israel – Hebrew and Arabic. We should also guarantee the right of Israeli citizens to study in schools that teach in Hebrew or Arabic (or both would be best).
All Israelis should be educated in the same basic core curricula which include science, mathematics, computers, English, their primary language (Hebrew or Arabic) and civics. Communities should be granted autonomy to determine additional subjects of learning, including religious learning, literature of their own culture and history and historic narratives of both sides of the conflict.
Separation of religion and state
The constitution must guarantee the freedom of religion but also the freedom from religion. In the best-case scenario, in my mind, there should be separation between religion and state and every citizen should be free to practice their religion as they see fit, but without imposing on others their religious beliefs.
All religions in the state should have the equal right to celebrate their religions in private and in public and religious holidays should be marked as official holidays for those communities which decide to observe them. Within the framework of equality there should be provisions for equal service to the state and community for all citizens; whether this is military or community service, all citizens should be treated equally in this regard.
Less controversy, more justice
Other reforms which are necessary in Israel in the immediate future and are far less controversial concern the way that our justice system works. First of all, we need at least 700 more judges in our system. Trials and legal proceedings in Israel simply take way too much time and involve the unnecessary suffering of too many citizens.
Regarding the Supreme Court, there is total justification that the court needs to be a lot more representative of the people of Israel. There must be more Justices from communities which are not represented or are underrepresented. The court should allow for more plurality in world views, but there should be no compromise on the quality of the court.
There is a lot to do remembering that the people are the sovereign, and not the Knesset or the government. The people who took to the streets, and for the time being have forced the government to freeze the transition of Israel into a dictatorship, must continue to be on guard and prepared to turn up the pressure.
The opportunity for real change is upon us and the demand for a constitution is being expressed. It will take time, but the process has finally begun.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and its neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond and is the Middle East director for ICO – International Communities Organization.