Continue Israel's fight for democracy to avoid dictatorship - opinion

The best of all our sons and daughters have, for years, agreed to put themselves at risk, and sacrifice their lives for the present and future of this country.

ANTI-JUDICIAL reform demonstrators protest in Jerusalem, as the Knesset convened this week.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ANTI-JUDICIAL reform demonstrators protest in Jerusalem, as the Knesset convened this week.

Last Saturday night, during the weekly protest against the government’s judicial reform program, I met Yaron Ram. He was standing with a sign that showed a photograph of his brother, along with the text: “The late Sgt. Maj Elad Ram, may his memory be a blessing, the Second Lebanon War. Was it in vain?”

I approached Yaron and told him that I knew of his brother’s story from my time working as a journalist. Elad fell at noon on the last day of combat. He was posthumously awarded with a citation of excellence from IDF Northern Command’s commanding officer for his heroic conduct under fire.

“What frightens you?” I asked Yaron. 

“Everyone is sad lately,” he replied, “but as a bereaved brother, I am twice as sad. Elad was my younger brother, and he fought for a Jewish and democratic state. I pray that his death was not in vain.”

Yaron is not alone. The values upon which we have raised and educated our children to serve in the IDF are contradictory to the desire of every parent to protect their child. We have done so to protect the state.

The best of all our sons and daughters have, for years, agreed to put themselves at risk, and sacrifice their lives for the present and future of this country. They were the silver platter on which we were given the Jewish homeland. Yet in the chaotic reality that has emerged, many are concluding – for the first time in Israel’s history – that they can no longer serve the “king.”

Rejecting all possible olive branches

THE GOVERNMENT rejected all compromise efforts ahead of the vote on its amendment to the Basic Law: Judiciary to narrow the reasonableness standard. The amendment (which passed July 24) can only change the rules of the political system.

This will certainly not, as MK Simcha Rothman argued, bring back the principle of separation of powers and boost democracy in the State of Israel. Nor can the amendment be described as “non-dramatic” as coalition officials claimed just before the vote.

To grasp the significance of the step, we need to go back 10 months to the days when, for most of us at least, legal terms were not part and parcel of our daily lives.

Last October, as Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu fought to regain the premiership and made promises that were mainly about dealing with the cost-of-living crisis, no mention was made of a judicial override clause, that would give the government the ability to restore laws that the Supreme Court had struck off, and neither was any mention made of narrowing the scope of the reasonableness standard, or making changes to the judicial appointments committee, etc. These issues were simply not part of his election campaign.

We first learned about the legal coup from Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s now-infamous press conference. The reaction arrived fast enough, and from there, the road was short to long weeks of protest that Netanyahu did not foresee.

Some may ask: What is so dramatic about eliminating the reasonableness basis for the Supreme Court’s dismissal of government decisions? In layman’s terms, I would answer that without the reasonableness standard, there will be no checks and balances on government decisions, or those of the prime minister, and no one will prevent corrupt appointments.

You might say that this is fine, and that the Supreme Court should not be the one to determine this or conduct policy, since we are, after all, in a democracy, and no one elected the Supreme Court judges.

This narrative leads to the view that the elected government has a mandate to lead its policies without judicial oversight.

When it comes to policy, there is some justification to the claim that the government has a right to exercise its judgment – which is precisely why the court has scarcely ever canceled policy decisions, except when they are extremely unreasonable, such as the failure to fortify classrooms in rocket-stricken Sderot.

BUT WHAT will citizens say, when the government seeks to return a convicted criminal, such as Arye Deri, to power; violate the freedom of the press; subordinate the Police Investigations Department to a minister; or appoint an attorney-general with an unsuitable background?

What will the people say, when the government decides that the date for the Knesset elections is unsuitable, as happened when the elections for the chief rabbis were postponed?

Will that be reasonable? In other words, who will preserve democracy?

In states that have checks and balances, there is usually a constitution and a constitutional court. Some Western states have two houses of parliament. Israeli democracy is built on the principle of separation of powers, but the legal revolution led an entire public to wake up and realize its fragility.

In practice, there is no real separation of powers in Israel; the government controls the Knesset, and only the judiciary can check the government.

Israel is a model of semi-democracy that has led to inherent chaos over the years. Eliminating the reasonableness standard blocks the judiciary, and leaves a single power: This is known as dictatorship.

As we prepare to commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, history has its ways of making us open our eyes. When in the background, members of the government are engaged in making painful remarks, condemning pilots and IDF combat soldiers who decline to show up for reserve service, or when the Minister for Information Galit Distal Atbaryan writes that “a thousand pilots won’t be able to extinguish me,” we should cast our gaze on the moving images of the masses of Israel who, in extreme heat, have marched to Jerusalem.

Those behind the so-called reform should internalize that just as we are ready to fight for our country, so too will we fight for our democracy.

The writer is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. She served as a Knesset member in the 24th Knesset, as well as the deputy head of the Kiryat Tivon Regional Council. She is a senior lecturer in academia and a journalist.