As I observe the worrisome political crisis in Israel, sparked by the judicial reform promoted by the government coalition, I cannot help but feel that it is a crisis that could have been prevented. Instead, the course of action that was chosen has truly fractured Israel’s society and generated great collateral damage for Israel both at home and abroad.
A reform of this level of importance, which would fundamentally change the balance of power between the three branches of government, and ultimately affect the lives of all Israelis, necessitated a broad national debate and a serious attempt to foster greater consensus.
In a true liberal democracy like Israel, majority rule is not the only thing that ought to be protected. Other basic principles such as the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, a system of checks and balances between the different branches of government, respect for minorities, and the notion that nobody is above the law, should also be guaranteed. Therefore, any attempt to modify these basic principles requires careful examination and a constructive dialogue between the different actors of society.
From a strictly legal point of view, some of the proposed reforms are not unreasonable. The suggested changes to the way judges are currently selected, for example, would only bring Israel closer to the system prevailing in many well-established democracies, including the United States. In fact, increasing the Knesset’s representation on the committee that selects the judges (which is currently controlled by the justices themselves), could be a way of guaranteeing greater ideological diversity among the judges.
Likewise, the proposed limitation to the power of the court to block acts of government on the basis on an increasingly expanding notion of “reasonableness” is not a crazy idea. Many experts (of different political orientations) have indeed maintained for years that, since the 1990s, the court has greatly overstepped its authority regarding this, truly affecting governability.
A more problematic proposal is the one that seeks to give the Knesset the power to temporarily suspend (or even revoke) certain decisions taken by the court. But, in any case, all these issues should have been part of a broad debate, in which the various actors of society felt represented.
The aggressive way in which the ruling coalition tried to pass the proposed legislation, amid growing public discontent, is more serious than the content of the proposal itself. And the reaction of so many Israelis, demonstrating energetically on the streets, shows the great strength of Israel’s democracy.
The recent decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to postpone the treatment of this reform is a welcomed development, as highlighted by President Isaac Herzog. Unfortunately, this decision came only after the damage to Israel’s society and international reputation had been done.
Let us hope that, as the celebrations for Israel’s 75th anniversary approach, these wounds can be healed, and the spirit of unity, above all differences, can once again prevail among the citizens of this great nation.
Adriana Camisar is B’nai B’rith International’s Special Advisor on Latin American and U.N. Affairs and Deputy Director of AJIRI-BBI (the American Jewish International Relations Institute, an affiliate of B’nai B’rith). A native of Argentina, Camisar is an attorney by training and holds a Master’s degree in international affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.