Michael Lipkin

Some Random Thoughts on Israel’s Judicial Reforms

I’ve been just a tad obsessed with the issue of Israel’s proposed judicial reforms and have attended several demonstrations protesting them. Like most people in the country, I’m not opposed to some reasonable and necessary adjustments to the judicial system and how the government interacts with it, but I truly believe that, as currently proposed, these reforms would seriously undermine Israel’s democracy and pave the way for a potential authoritarian theocracy. Below, I aggregated various thoughts I’ve been expressing, mostly as comments on Facebook posts. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

At protest rally in Jerusalem, February 2023

There are few, if any, evil players involved. As with most societal issues, the vast majority of the population falls into a reasonable middle. Even most people at the extremes likely believe that what they want is for the good of the nation as they see it. It’s pretty clear that most of the population understands that some reforms are needed, but just not the ones currently on the table.

The supreme court justices do not “select themselves”. That is a false statement many of the pro-reformers are propagating. The selection process requires a vote of 7 members of the 9 on the  selection committee to appoint a justice. There are 3 justices and 2 bar members on the committee, the remainder are legislators. Do the math.

The supreme court is not made up of only leftist justices. Currently, out of the 15 justices on the supreme court at least 6 are conservative or conservative leaning. (Something that would be impossible if the above assertion was true.) The last 10 justices were nominated by justice ministers from either Likud or Bayit Yehudi, both right wing parties.

The protests are not about denying the results of the election. They are about specific proposals by the current government. The protesters are not saying that the election was “stolen” or there was “fraud”. Elections in no way preclude people from protesting the actions of their government. 

Democracy, as understood throughout the Western word, is not merely “majority rule”. Most of our modern democracies have some set of defining principles which specifically limit the will of the majority to safeguard those principles.

While about half the voters in Israel chose this coalition, that does not mean that a majority of the population is in favor of these reforms as is. It’s clear from multiple polls that the vast majority of the population, including large numbers of those who voted for Likud, are not in favor of these reforms as currently formulated. Thus it’s disingenuous to claim that the government has a mandate to implement these reforms.

There is no need for the ruling coalition to negotiate with the opposition. This is far bigger than just the political opposition. Everyone knows the minimum required to fix the reforms, it has been clearly laid out by experts across the board. The ruling coalition holds all the cards. It merely has to make a few reasonable tweaks. Saying “they won’t sit down with us” is an obfuscation and/or delay tactic, it’s not a serious reason to avoid fixing the issues.

Israel’s government is nothing like the US. One cannot just say that making the judicial selection process more like that of the US will make Israel more democratic. Israel has no constitution, no bicameral legislature, no effective separation between the executive and the legislature and no term limits. Handing the selection of justices over to the ruling coalition further removes checks on the government’s authority, making Israel less democratic, not more.

As Alan Dershowitz, and other important voices who strongly support Israel have stated, our supreme court is considered the “gold standard” in the world. As such, it acts as an “iron dome” protecting Israelis from international prosecution. The importance of this cannot be overemphasized.

The pro-reformers have a valid argument when saying that Israel’s supreme court does have too much unchecked power. As such, part of a reasonable reform would be to allow the legislature to counter supreme court decisions with a super-majority. However, doing so with a simple majority, as proposed, merely invests unlimited, unchecked power in the executive/legislature. It would create less balance, not more, as claimed.

Spontaneously blocking highways is dangerous and counterproductive. While there’s certainly a place for civil disobedience in a democracy, doing so should be carefully thought out and advance the cause. Blocking highways is dangerous because, minimally, it interferes with the transport of the critically ill. It’s counterproductive because it angers and inconveniences people, making them less sympathetic. It also creates negative PR.

Directly demonstrating against those not involved in the decision making process, e.g. family members, is wrong and also counterproductive. What on earth do people think can be gained by surrounding, trapping and/or threatening a family member of a politician? Aside from being egregiously wrong, it creates sympathy for the opposing side. It also creates a PR bonanza for the opposition.

Protests cost money. There’s nothing wrong or nefarious with organizers of protests seeking funds from sympathetic NGOs or other organizations, whether domestic or foreign. It’s not a gotcha moment if such funding is discovered. And, most laughably, just because an NGO gets some money from the US government, it does not mean that “Biden is Funding the Protests” as some inane far right headlines have blared. In general, people need to stop playing the gotcha game and engage in reasoned logical dialog. 

Cherry picking anecdotes to bolster one’s bias proves nothing. There are politicians and others with a platform on both sides who’ve said outrageous things. There are always, in any situation, a handful of people who behave in ways that support something the other side thinks. It’s very disingenuous to focus on these anecdotes and nonsensical to claim that it somehow proves one’s point.

A lot of people using the word “anarchy” don’t seem to know what it means. Engaging in acts of civil disobedience is not anarchy. Pretty much everyone, on both sides of this issue, is protesting FOR some type of government. That’s the opposite of anarchy. 

About the Author
Michael Lipkin made Aliyah in 2004 from Edison, NJ to Beit Shemesh with his wife and four children. Since moving to Israel, Michael and his wife have been blessed with two new sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law, eleven grandchildren and a sabra of their own! Michael currently works as a tech liaison for a financial web site.