Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.”
Israel faces one of its greatest-ever internal crises.
Israel has faced many threats to its existence externally, whether through repeated annihilationist attacks, economic boycotts and bloody terrorism. However, while we have had intense and often vehement disagreements politically and ideologically, I fear the current debate surrounding judicial reform is pushing us to the brink.
At the root of both sides of the debate is our identity as a people and a nation. There is certainty on both sides that the current or future judicial and government system does not represent our ideologies, hopes and aspirations and thus imperils our future.
Debate has become extreme on both sides
Much of this debate has become extreme on both sides precisely because our national debate has no secure anchor to ensure a dispute does not wander into dangerous territory.
It is certainly no coincidence that opponents of the judicial reform have utilized and appropriated the Declaration of Independence as a symbol of their resistance to the proposed changes.
However, the Declaration of Independence did not provide the necessary checks and balances for governance, it was an explanation to the world and to ourselves that our return to national sovereignty in our ancestral and indigenous homeland in 1948 was now secured, official and overwhelmingly recognized by its inhabitants. Nevertheless, our return to national sovereignty was not without its internal contradictions.
We sought to build a liberal democracy with people who had no experience with it. The miracle of Israel is that people came from over 100 nations, with different languages, cultures and traditions but almost completely unified in living as unfree and oppressed, whether from Nazi Europe, the former Soviet Union, or the mullahs of the Arab world, yet built a thriving and free democracy for all. To do so, it was vital that everyone felt represented, thus the need for a rather extreme version of proportional representation that provided a voice for all in the democratically elected legislature.
However, what was necessary during the early years of the state has now become a burden and led us to years of political paralysis and the extreme polarization of our national debate.
This has led to the current grab for unfiltered and unchecked power by the current government, hoping to instill a permanent system of control based on their ideology and political requirements.
Opponents of judicial reform have called it a move towards dictatorship and tyranny, with some beginning the process of disengaging from the country, whether through refusing military service or moving their financial base out of the country.
While the extremes on both sides are making the loudest noise, I believe the majority of Israelis support some type of judicial reform, even while ensuring the necessary checks and balances remain in place.
For this to happen, we need to do is what previous generations failed to do: write a national constitution that represents the Zionist consensus.
What divides us is not as great as which unites us
We can see, even in the heart of the most difficult debate, that what divides us is not as great as that which unites us.
THE MAJORITY wants a Jewish and democratic state, one that does not come at the expense of the other. We want a country where there is equality in terms of rights, benefits and obligations. We want a country where the symbols are Jewish and our non-Jewish brothers and sisters feel equal and welcome.
The previous government, where the Right, Center and Left, along with moderate Arabs, can sit together to work for the greater good, looking after each community but not at the cost of all others, showed what our country can be.
When our leaders, each with their own ideology and political outlook, came together around a table, they found points of consensus to deal with the nation’s challenges and move the country forward.
It is in seeing this spirit of unity that I know we can overcome our differences to find a baseline of the agreement for a first-ever constitution for Israel and create the necessary anchors for governance, stability, sustainability and progress.
It is vital that we take this opportunity to put down the rules of the game for all generations that no extreme can move us too far away from.
The exact outline of such a constitution can and should be agreed upon by a Zionist consensus. It is within our grasp. There are well over 80 seats in the Knesset, two-thirds of which agree on what the contours should contain.
Those who seek a sustainable, workable and equitable future for Israel should start putting their efforts towards creating such a constitution.
The words of the preamble for the United States Constitution, something that took six weeks to draft, should inspire us because it includes what is most necessary for Israel at this juncture. America’s founding fathers wrote, “In order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution.”
These very simple but necessary aspirations unified the US and they can become the foundation for all fair-minded Israelis. They seek one thing: the common good.
We borrowed parts of our political system from the Weimar Republic and the Westminster model, many of our laws from the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate, while the bedrock of our foundation here in Israel should be from the Jewish tradition. I think it is acceptable to borrow one more foreign idea, especially during this transitional and tumultuous period.
Let us turn this fundamental crisis into an essential opportunity fulfilled. More than we need or not to reform the judicial system, we need a permanent set of binding principles to form the legal basis for Israel moving forward. We need a constitution for the Zionist consensus.
The writer is the chairman of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs and an MK for the Yisrael Beytenu party.