Michael Boyden

Israel’s Democracy in Danger

The highly respected, late mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, once remarked that one of the amazing things about Israel was that we had managed to establish a democracy, even though most of Israel’s citizens come from countries that never knew what a democracy was.

However, Israel’s democracy is in danger. Many mistakenly believe democracy to be the rule of the majority, but have forgotten or never knew the second half of the definition: respect for and the defence of the rights of the minority.

Nearly one-third of the coalition that Benjamin Netanyahu is currently forming is comprised of representatives of charedi parties, who, given their way, would abolish the Knesset and Israel’s Supreme Court entirely and replace them with a Council of Torah Sages.

A further 14 mandates are in the hands of the Religious Zionist and Jewish Power parties, who are interested in taking control of the exercise of the rule of law and order in the Jewish State. Together with the charedim they will make up over half of the incoming coalition should Netanyahu succeed in reaching an agreement with them all.

Proposals under consideration by the incoming government include limiting the ability of the Supreme Court to invalidate legislation contravening Israel’s basic laws, abolishing its practice of appointing its President on the basis of seniority and revamping the procedures by which judges are selected.

A democracy is comprised of three distinct components: the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. Once an elected government controls all three branches without there being an appropriate separation of powers, a country ceases to be a democracy in practice.

At a conference held at Haifa University this Thursday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara bravely warned those present of the danger of the incoming government introducing hasty legislation that would result, in her words, in Israel “remaining a democracy in name alone but not in essence”.

Unfortunately, given the composition of the coalition that Netanyahu is currently forming, her words are likely to fall on deaf ears.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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