The coalition of right-wing, religious, and conservative parties in power in Israel organized a protest movement against it in two months that ranks among the biggest in the nation’s history. This coalition’s proposed justice reform is divided. Dangerously.
Leading court members believe it to be an effort to weaken it by limiting the Supreme Court’s powers. Due to its dual roles as a constitutional council and an administrative, civil, and criminal court of appeal, the latter concentrates enormous power.
Its fifteen judges represent the only institutional counter-power in a small nation without locally elected politicians, whose Parliament has only one chamber where the majority merges with the administration. They worry that, depending on the mood, a simple majority in the Knesset will be sufficient to enact any measure without judicial review. A nation without a constitution or that refuses to abide by any international document defending human rights is potentially dangerous.
Israelis exhibit a dread that their nation would unforeseen join the ranks of illiberal democracies like Poland or Hungary. The head of the central bank and the business community have issued warnings against a legal environment that might lead rating agencies to downgrade the nation’s sovereign rating. Paris and Washington are both voicing their objections.
Toxic power dynamics
Prime Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been on trial for corruption since 2021, has created a toxic power dynamic with the judges. He asserts that the pledge to implement this reform was the reason he was elected in November 2022. But as evidenced by opinion polls, it has since failed to persuade Israelis of its necessity and the urgency of adopting it.
Out of the 120 seats in the Knesset, 64 are held by Mr Netanyahu and his allies. Yet, this fall’s election saw them win fewer than 50% of the vote. Hence, they cannot benefit from the widespread support that such a reform needs. They must accept President Isaac Herzog’s plea to put this reform on hold to have an open discussion with the opposition, who would also be wise to include the minority of Palestinian citizens of Israel (20% of the population) in the discussion.
There has been a lengthier fermenting of this crisis. The Supreme Court has never been the perfect fortress that its supporters portray it to be today in terms of protecting minorities, human rights, and democracy. Since 1967, the judiciary has consistently disregarded international law by allowing the president to encourage colonization of the Palestinian lands. They have contributed to establishing a dual legal system that protects Israeli settlers with protections comparable to those enjoyed by Jewish state citizens while leaving Palestinians vulnerable to military whim.
The most committed reformers to their cause want to finish this system. In practice and, eventually, in legislation, they wish to guide the nation toward the simple and uncomplicated annexation of the territories. To accomplish this, they rationally turned against the judges with the help of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties eager to protect their group from any alleged state intrusion. So, this reform highlights a mad dash that needs to be stopped.
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