Israel is currently in an unprecedented crisis, demonstrated by the many establishment figures calling on American Jews, in their capacities both as Jews and as Americans, to make clear that we will not accept Israel going down the path that nations such as Hungary, Poland, and Turkey have trodden during the last decade.
Below is an article I published recently in Ha’aretz making that same argument, that now is precisely the time for American Jews who care about Israel but are deeply critical of many of its policies to do whatever we can to prevent this “judicial coup” from going through the Knesset. It is very much our business.
We at Partners do not seek simply a return to the status quo ante. We seek a change of direction of Israel’s 55-year-old policy of holding on to the West Bank as, in effect, a colonial possession, where the inhabitants are forbidden from choosing their government. This stain on Israeli democracy will remain even if the “judicial reforms” being pushed by the rightwing bloc are defeated.
The “reforms” now being strong-armed through the Knesset are all about removing the checks and balances that every democracy must maintain in order to guard against the seemingly opposite dangers of undue power being exercised on behalf of a minority, on the one hand; or, just as bad, a majoritarian democracy in which a simple majority can dictate fundamental changes or ride roughshod over the rights that every liberal democracy, by definition, must grant its minorities, be they political, ethnic, gender-based, or any other. Every democratic nation has developed these “antibody institutions” to protect itself. Most countries embed them in a constitution or bill of rights, as the US does, where the federal system and three independent branches of government are among the main protectors against anti-democratic initiatives.
Israel, lacking a constitution, has developed different mechanisms to protect itself, including a committee system for judicial appointees comprising judges, lawyers, and politicians; an attorney general empowered to constrain the government in some instances; independent legal advisors in cabinet ministries; and a judicially-created right to annul laws deemed “unreasonable.” The latter is rarely employed but essential in a system where a narrow Knesset majority combines both the executive and legislative powers that our own system divides. Without these checks, even a duly elected government can game the system to keep itself in power or suppress minorities, a process currently being played out around the world.
The current crisis was made politically possible by a coalition of three distinct minorities with varying political goals or grievances, in combination with PM Netanyahu’s desperate attempts to end his ongoing trial for corruption. 1) The Haredi (“ultra-Orthodox”) parties want to block the Supreme Court’s repeated rejection of their blanket exemption from military service, as well as excepting their schools from minimum secular education requirements; (2) Extremist settlers want to remove any legal obstacles to increased settlement or annexation of part or all of the West Bank, and prevent punishment for atrocities like the recent settler pogrom in the West Bank village of Huwara; and (3) Groups like the Kohelet Forum, a well-financed and influential think tank, are pushing for the removal of legal norms preventing adoption of American libertarian principles foreign to Israel.
This unholy coalition has seized on the seeming opportunity to entrench itself and its political goals after narrowly winning the last election. Partners hopes you will work with us as we and our allies fight against it.
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