New rules for the ‘rule of law’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz took to social media on Friday to say that “everybody understands that only a national unity government will save Israel and get it out of the financial hardships waiting around the corner once we defeat the coronavirus.”  

He informed the public that most issues have already been agreed upon with Likud, the party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of, and that “first of all” these issues include the “rule of law.”    – JPOST

What is the “rule of law“?  Lately the Right has been assaulted in the Press for being against “democracy” and opposed to the “rule of law”. The Right, some to a greater extent, others less, supports and voted for PM Binyamin Netanyahu despite Netanyahu’s indictments. The Right also supports changes in the relationship between the Knesset and the High Court that would weaken the High Court’s ability to override legislation passed in the Knesset. Seemingly, by the Left’s standards, the Right is against the “rule of law”. Yet the Right, no less than the Left in Israel, wants the “rule of law”.  Just, evidently, we on the Right have a slightly different definition of what that means.

Take the Kaminitz Law, for example. Kalman Liebskind, in Maariv, explains in detail why the Kaminitz Law (or amendment 116 to the Construction Law) is so important for the “rule of law”. Undoubtedly a harsh measure, it has been remarkably successful in curtailing illegal building, mainly in the Arab sector. It is hard to grasp, for some, the importance of having measures to prevent illegal building, but on a visit to Tel Sheva, outside of Beer Sheva I saw what illegal building causes. In Tel Sheva there are few parks available for the population for a locality of over 20 thousand residents. The city engineer frankly admitted that illegal building made any allocation for public use extremely difficult. Liebskind details that not only allocations for parks or schools suffer, but even national infrastructure projects needed to serve the Arab population have been stopped by illegal building. Benny Gantz, out of political calculations to gain support from the Joint Arab List, has pledged to cancel the amendment. For Gantz, the Kaminitz Law is not part of his “rule of law”.

Or maybe we should look South, to the Negev and the issue of Bedouin encroachment on State Lands.  The issue is certainly complicated and emotional, but here too the government is trying to forge a compromise where Bedouin townships are enlarged, given improved infrastructure and in turn other State Lands preserved for open spaces. For the Right, this is an issue of “rule of law” and a matter of state sovereignty. Rumors are circulating that Gantz is demanding that Amir Peretz be made responsible for the Authority for the Advancement of the Bedouin in the Negev. The Right fears that he will use his authority to unravel past gains in order to succor favor with the Joint Arab List and to bolster support for the Labor Party amongst the Bedouins. Did we say, “rule of law”?

Then there is the issue of Deposit Law for Infiltrators.  Lately, due to Israel’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, many of the illegal workers in Israel have lost their source of income. Many on the Left have therefore called to allow the workers access to monies deposited under the 2016 Deposit Law. Yonatan Jakubowicz, Executive Director of the Israel Immigration Policy Center, who initiated the bill,  claims that such a move would cripple Israel’s ability to induce the foreign workers to voluntarily leave Israel. Rather than relaxing measures, the present crisis is an opportunity to increase the number of repatriations and progress in finding a solution to a vexing problem. Here too, there is a real concern that Gantz will weaken Israel’s ability to protect her borders out of electoral interests.

And so, on and on. The Right’s stance on the balance between the stature of the Knesset and the High Court is also a matter of “rule of law”.  Presently the High Court can annul legislation under the claim that such legislation impedes other Basic Laws (eg: Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty authorized by the Knesset in 1992 by a majority vote of 32 to 21 ). The High Court has even contemplated hearing petitions to cancel the Nationality Law, itself a Basic Law. Khan el Amar?  Amona?  Increased taxes on those who hold three or more apartments? All these are also issues involving the “rule of law”.

Even sovereignty (or Annexation), in its basic sense, is a matter of having the same Israeli civil laws that pertain to civil matters be applied to the Israeli controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, and is, for the Right, an issue of  “rule of law”.

So what does Gantz mean when he says “rule of law”? That Netanyahu should step down because of his indictments despite the present law that allows a Prime Minister to remain in office until he is convicted and after appeal? Or that perhaps the “rule of law” is to allow changes in existing laws  so as to prevent Netanyahu from continuing to be  Prime Minister, something akin to “we rule, so we will make the law”? Reflecting on our “Through the Looking Glass ” world, perhaps the phrase “rule of law” can be used as Gantz desires and be discarded after serving its purpose? After all, it is all a matter of who will be the master of whom. It is so confusing at times.

What is not confusing, is that if Netanyahu is willing to sacrifice core values of the Right in order to prevent Gantz from initiating steps to limit Netanyahu’s ability to lead the Likud and be PM, then what is the point of a government led by Netanyahu? Or Netanyahu should stick to the Right’s red lines or Netanyahu can go, or we can go to new elections. The “rule of law” trumps the rule of Netanyahu any day. Even for the Right.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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