Alex Rose

The Less Understood Issues

“The fact that people throughout Israel do not have their own Knesset representation beholden and accountable to them means that the Knesset doesn’t truly represent the will of the people.”[Jerusalem Post, April 7, 2019–“Agenda Item for the next Knesset: Electoral Reform” by Dov Lipman]

The paper focuses on “The changes that are needed can be divided into 3 primary categories: regional representation, raising the electoral threshold, and the separation of powers.”

Evelyn Gordon’s, “Israel’s Judicial Reckoning” of March 6, 2023, is a breathtaking analysis of Israel’s current “democratic” government. She recognizes how anyone reading the press abroad presently would probably conclude that the country will soon cease being a democracy.

Less than a month after taking office, Israel’s government unveiled a sweeping package of reforms to reduce the power of the nation’s Supreme Court, on the grounds that the court has undermined democracy by encroaching on traditional executive and legislative functions. The opposition has an entirely different view claiming that the reforms and not the court are the true threat to democracy. Their response, in the form of massive protests hardly civilized, “has become descending into chaos.” She asks who is right and what should be done now.

Gordon has written about the need to restrain the court’s excessive activism for 3decades, long before it became a partisan voting issue for many Israelis. She maintains that not only are the proposed reforms within the bounds of normal democratic practice, but in fact “essential to bolstering Israel’s democracy.” Since Israeli society is at a breaking point, balancing these 2 imperatives is an urgent task.

Right now both sides believe they can win. The government has the votes to pass its own plan as is; the opposition believes that the protests and pressure will force the government to fold.

This is why coalition MK’s are treating the reform as a matter of such urgency: they recognize this as a political opportunity that may not soon return.

Rather than merely judging whether policies comply with existing law, the court also asserted that government decisions could be “so unreasonable as to be illegal”—even if they violated no law.

Evelyn Gordon recognizes that Israel’s court is abnormally powerful and has caused half the nation to lose faith in its government. Reform will help, as long as it doesn’t cause the other half to do the same.

The Times of Israel interestingly published, “Smotrich tells WSJ new government will make Israel like America” on 28/12/2022. The commencement  reads, “Far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, who is set to be finance minister in the incoming government, makes his pitch to the US public in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, saying controversial reforms proposed by the new government simply aim to make Israel more like America.”

To this he adds the new government seeks to strengthen every citizen’s freedoms and the country’s democratic institutions, bringing Israel more closely in line with the liberal American model. As another attempt to imitate the US model, he justifies planned judicial reforms which will limit the power of the judiciary.

Smotrich hastens to point out that he has been “vilified” by the US media, which mistakenly portrays him as someone who plans to implement religious law. At the outset, Smotrich explains, “Israel’s justice system also needs urgent reform to restore democratic balance, individual rights and public trust. In the US, elected politicians appoint federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, making the bench at least indirectly responsive to the people. In Israel, sitting Supreme Court justices have veto power over new appointments to the court.”

His emphasis on seeking to appoint judges in Israel in a process similar to America’s must surely be applauded. But this wisdom does not seem to have gained sufficient acceptance give the case as regards the ongoing riots.

Approximately 2 years ago, Yoram Ettinger a former minister for congressional affairs at Israel’s embassy in Washington and an expert on US-Israel relations, told JNS that Israel’s political system “is a dysfunctional and self-destructive system from its inception.”

He realizes that a better system is needed, which introduces accountability by members of Knesset to their constituents. Even now, the Knesset members are accountable to their party leaders. The existing system disarms voters completely and renders them irrelevant between election campaigns.

Ettinger makes 2 further significant points.”There must be a system of checks and balances where the legislature has the power to independently, and not under threat, examine the executive branch.” In addition, he feels that term limits for the executive branch are necessary.

Dr. Norman Bailey, writing in GLOBES on 23/12/2019, “Israel’s political system is broken, so fix it”, compares Israel with the US and UK. After listing key items, Bailey summarizes. “Israel is none of these. It has no constitution; its head of state is a non-executive president; its legislature, the Knesset, is not elected by electoral district but by party list and thus the members of the Knesset represent no-one in particular, except their party bosses. “

The Prime Minister is both CEO and COO. In addition, in Israel the PM is subject to no term limits, unlike in the US, where the president is limited to 2 consecutive 4-yearterms.”It is clear to everyone, except of course the politicians who benefit from the present system that it desperately need be reformed.”

With the current news on Isaac Herzog’s visit to the US ablaze, one needs to view the event with open eyes. Given his attempts at upstaging Prime Minister Netanyahu during difficult times is absolutely disgusting. The man, a member of an extraordinary Jewish family, is an adroit politician with a history of failures. He can be remembered for being the leader of the Democrat Party for the shortest duration. On March 9, 2023, Haaretz, hardly a right-wing news paper, published, “The Eight Ways Herzog is Damaging Israeli Democracy.” Enough said.

About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.