Israel’s judicial reform must pass to secure Israel’s future as a democratic state. Over the past four months, the public’s trust in its elected officials and democratic elections was lessened due to the uncompromising campaign against judicial reform. Looking ahead, the right-wing coalition needs to enact the policies they were elected to pursue. Compromises will need to be made and the unity of the country must be preserved, but some form of judicial reform must pass. The political landscape of developed countries in Europe and the United States is similar in many ways to Israel’s and understanding what has happened in those countries will help us better understand our current power struggle.
There are generally two opposing political groupings in almost every developed country. There is the right wing, which tends to be conservative, committed to traditional family values, in favor of lower taxes, and supportive of limited government. Comparatively, the left tends to be more liberal, supports higher taxes and more active government, advocates for the separation of church and state, promotes more liberal social policies, and uses power structures to advance their narrative. While each country has their nuances and doesn’t necessarily follow all of these benchmarks, most political scientists agree that these characteristics generally define political leanings and identity in democratic countries.
In Europe and the United States, the political right and left are clearly defined and adversaries to one another. In the campaign leading up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States, the entire mainstream media of the United enlisted into the service of Democratic Party candidate, Hilary Clinton. The media for months aired unrelenting attacks and breaking news of major scandals against Republican candidate, Donald Trump. In the end Trump beat out Clinton, and we were witness to wall-to-wall coverage by almost every mainstream news channel in the United States mourning Clinton’s defeat. Over the last decade Europe has also been a host of sharp political divides on the issues of illegal immigration, economic policy, and membership in the European Union. In Israeli politics we are partners with the rest of the western world on issues separating the right and left wing.
Israeli political turmoil and disagreement existed well before the State was founded in 1948. There were disagreements on whether to confront the British diplomatically or with military force, about the religious status of the Jewish community, and the composition and mission of the armed forces. The latter reached a breaking point when the HaGanah (which would become the Israeli Defense Force) sunk an Irgun (right wing fighting force led by Menachem Begin) ship filled with weapons and ammunition supplied by the French. Three Irgun fighters were killed, and the incident known as the Altalena Affair, left deep scars and sowed mistrust for many years to follow.
From its founding in 1948 until 1977, the State of Israel, its government, and its institutions were tightly controlled by the left-leaning, socialist Labor party which enacted policies suiting its political orientation. In 1977, Menachem Begin and his Likud party won the election and brought forth a right-wing government for the first time in Israel’s history. The campaign leading up to the 1977 election was vicious, marked with racial slurs from the left wing against Sephardic Jews, and mass protests from both sides. Still, even after Begin’s victory and the introduction of a right-wing government, very little changed in Israeli policies, its power structures and its socialist style laws.
Following Begin’s right-wing victory, Israeli government coalitions have typically been comprised of a combination of left, center, and right-wing parties. As a result, one side of the coalition has stopped the other(s) – even if they are the majority within the coalition – from enacting major policy changes. Furthermore, unlike other countries (including the United States) where government staff are switched after each election, in Israel, government staff retain their positions from one coalition to the next, no matter which political camp is in charge, creating a certain institutional inertia against changes in policy and management. Right-wing voters have been excluded from leading positions in Israel’s government institutions, workers unions, and the army (to name a few).
Since 1977, only two Israeli government coalitions been composed of solely right-or left-wing parties. When coalitions are politically aligned, it allows them to move forward much of their political agendas without interference or objection. The first instance was in 1992, when several right-wing parties failed to pass the electoral threshold and the left, led by Yitzchak Rabin, took charge of the government and enacted the Oslo Accords. The second time in Israel’s history is the current right-wing coalition. In the four months since the current government took control, its main focus has been to implement judicial reform and restore balance to Israel’s political institutions by reining in the unusual power of the Supreme and other courts.
Israel’s left holds dear its supreme court which overstepped its boundary in 1992 when then Chief Justice Aharon Barak began his Judicial activism revolution. Since then and consistently over the past 30 years, Israel’s Supreme Court (which appoints its own justices) has disqualified laws forwarding right-wing policies and become an unelected left wing political actor. The right wing’s efforts to curtail this power through judicial reform has brought forth a fury from left-wing elements who are hellbent on preserving the status quo, however unfair and unreasonable it may have become. The left wing and their allies have led boycotts against the State inside and outside of the country, moved hundreds of millions of dollars outside of Israel, encouraged Israelis to refuse to serve in the army and reserves, and have pushed for nationwide strikes. Most Israelis are shocked that a small but vocal left-wing faction is actively trying to destroy the State of Israel.
Judicial reform was the clearly stated policy of the right-wing parties during the recent campaign. The right-wing parties won the election in a clear-cut victory and have every right and obligation to move ahead with the reforms. This is even more true for Israel’s right-wing voters, which have been classified as second-class citizens since the country’s founding. Ultimately, the right-wing coalition should make concessions to broaden public support for reform. They need to be transparent in these negotiations and fashion a compromise which will be accepted by a large majority of the Israeli public. Not because the United States demands this but because it is the duty of elected officials to preserve the unity of our country and represent the interests of the entire population. That is not to say that after such a proposal is presented that the government should bend to the pressure from actors, who although shout democracy, their only real goal is suppression of Israel’s right wing and its ability to lead the State of Israel.
These next few months will require strength, patience and the acceptance of responsibility by politicians and even the media (probably not going to happen) from the right to the left to preserve Israel’s unity while at the same time, passing judicial reform which will restore balance to Israel’s government institutions and uphold Israel’s conduct democratic elections in the future.