One hundred and sixty-one Air Force control reserve officers declare they will no longer serve, elite IDF units are torn between those who support and oppose the judicial reform plan, doctors have gone on a warning strike, “days of disruption” have become a weekly feature, extreme rhetoric prevails, and reports of violence are on the rise.
It is time for compromise.
The time has come for both the proponents and opponents of the judicial overhaul plan to realize that neither side will achieve a complete victory and that, in any event, if one side “quashes” the other in this debate, the country loses. Brothers do not “quash” brothers because if they do, the family is ruptured, fractured, and devastated. Instead, they seek a middle ground.
In March, when the government was hurtling ahead with its expansive judicial overhaul plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wisely pushed the pause button and called for negotiations. Unfortunately, those negotiations ended when opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Unity Party head Benny Gantz called them off in response to Netanyahu’s failure to live up to his bargain and appoint a coalition member to the committee to appoint judges and then to convene that committee.
The coalition, wanting to show that it would not be browbeaten by the opposition or protest movement, decided to continue with one element of the judicial overhaul plan, arguably the least significant and contentious: an amendment to a basic law blocking Israel’s courts from applying the “reasonableness standard” to strike down government and ministerial decisions.
Nevertheless, this piece of legislation is currently tearing the country apart and is scheduled to be voted on in the Knesset next week, coincidentally the week of Tisha Be’av, the fast commemorating – among other events – the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem because, as the sages said, of internal strife and “baseless hatred.”
It is well past the time for both Netanyahu and the opposition and protest movement leaders to again push the pause button and enter into negotiations. Otherwise, things may not end well. The timing of this saga, unfolding precisely during the week of Tisha Be’av, is a giant neon sign flashing “Beware.”
Netanyahu may be considering a proposal for compromise
Two jurists, Jewish People Policy Institute President Prof. Yedidia Stern and former deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri, have presented a proposal that offers a way out of the impasse. Netanyahu is reportedly considering it.
The proposal’s basic assumption is one that polls have shown the majority of the country would be willing to sign off on: there is a need for some judicial reform, but not the sweeping overhaul that has been put forward.
Under this proposal, the language in the reasonableness clause would be softened, and the courts could rule as unreasonable decisions and appointments made by cabinet ministers, including the prime minister, but not on those made and approved by the cabinet.
This finds the middle ground between those who do not want any judicial review based on the standard of reasonableness and those who believe the current system – whereby all decisions and appointments by ministers and the government can be deemed unreasonable – should remain.
Proponents of judicial reform will say that agreeing to this compromise is folding in the face of protests and giving in to blackmail by a cadre of reservists holding the country captive. And opponents of the plan will say that this paves the way for Arye Deri – whose ministerial appointment by Netanyahu was blocked as unreasonable by the court due to his past convictions – back into the government.
Accepting this will take a show of leadership by Netanyahu, Lapid, and Gantz. Netanyahu will have to stand up to those in his party and coalition who see their 64-56 Knesset majority as a mandate for sweeping changes, and Gantz and Lapid will have to repel calls by those in their camp who reject any judicial reform by this government.
During its first 75 years, Israel has faced challenges far more daunting than finding a compromise on a legal matter. This should not be that difficult. What is needed is for the leaders on both sides of this issue to muster the courage to withstand political pressure and finally put an end to the current self-destructive madness.