With hundreds of thousands of Israelis, Religious and Secular, Arab and Jewish, and Left and Right, all coming together, Israel has been in chaotic political turmoil for the past few months, mainly over one issue: Bibi Netanyahu’s proposed Judicial reforms. Many oppose these so called reforms, but what do they really mean?
As Jeremy Sharon puts it, “Justice Minister [Levin]’s draft legislation radically limits [The Supreme] Court’s capacity to strike down laws, bars it from intervening on Basic Laws, [and] gives coalition control of appointment of judges”. Israel is one of several countries that lacks a Constitution, and therefore government policy and function is based primarily on laws, the status quo, and the principles of the Declaration of Independence. One of the protections against tyrannical power offered to countries by their own Constitutions is the Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances. Essentially, in countries where this is fully active, predominantly America, but also countries like the Scandinavian States and the Netherlands, the Supreme Court, or “Judiciary,” is fully or mostly independent, meaning that other branches of government have little or no influence over the Judiciary, allowing it to check the powers of the other branches, ensuring balances of power.
In America, as well as a decent number of countries such as Uruguay, Uzbekistan, the Maldives, Cyprus, Turkey, and even Iran, all three branches are mostly independent, a system that often results in political stalemates, but usually works well save for cases of Authoritarianism and extreme corruption. This is largely due to the fact that these branches manage each other and check their powers. Many other countries have a Parliamentary system, meaning the leader of the Executive is determined by the legislature. Such is the case with countries like Italy, Iraq, Mauritius, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Belgium, Germany, Moldova, and a solid half of all countries in the world, including Israel. Especially in countries like Israel, where the legislative and executive are tied, the Judiciary is the only possible check on their power and the only way to prevent a government from exerting full control and upending a country’s system to their mere predilection.
A stark example of the importance of this check on power is the recent argument over the UK’s immigration policy. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak proposed a plan to send migrants back to their original countries if safe, and to Rwanda if their homeland was deemed unsafe. This was approved by the Legislature, which not-so-coincidentally belonged to the same party as Sunak. What prevented this law, ultimately deemed a violation of Britain’s constitution, from going into effect, however, was only the UK’s Independent Judiciary. A strong, independent Judiciary keeps powers in check and prevents overreach from other branches. A counterexample is Poland. The Polish government previously implemented reforms similar to those proposed in Israel, effectively turning the judiciary into a dependency of the other branches. In Poland, this has been proven catastrophic, with the majority party being able to exert full control and influence over Polish government and Politics, with their only supposed check being a set of judges appointed by them, notably judges who agreed with their policies and ideas, completely throwing Polish Rule of Law under the bus. This has previously and obviously received heavy criticism from the European Commission amid fears of tyranny towards the Polish opposition.
Israel enjoys having an Independent Judiciary. Regardless of whether Right or Left is in Power, whether it is Lapid or Bibi, no law in Israel will pass if deemed unreasonable by the judiciary. For the past 75 years, this has sent corrupt PMs to jail, such as Ehud Olmert, and prevented (most) unreasonable laws from leaving the hectic and often tone-deaf halls of the Knesset. Bibi’s reforms, however, seek to challenge that. These reforms would allow the majority party in the Knesset to appoint their own judges, allowing them to pick judges who would give them free reign. This would empower any governing coalition with the ability to go full throttle on policy and unleash partisan hell upon the once-democratic State of Israel. With this in place, radical laws from any ruling coalition could be passed without any popular consent or governmental check, effectively placing full control of government in the hands of the majority coalition, which can take the State and mold it like clay to be whatever they so desire.
Why would Bibi do this? Well, the answer is fairly simple. The current court has prevented his coalition’s most radical laws from taking place, something frustrating for politicians like him and Itamar Ben Gvir, eager to exert as much of their influence as possible over government. On top of all of this, Bibi is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal, with him embroiled in a court case conducted by Israel’s very own Judicial System. By attempting to overhaul Israel’s Judiciary, many also believe that Bibi is covering for himself to prevent criminal charges he would eventually receive from a non-biased judiciary.
Regardless of whether you agree with Bibi’s politics or not, it is important to recognize the harmful impacts this overhaul will have and the disproportionate power it, as well as any government in power, will have over the State of Israel. As Yair Lapid stated at the 2023 AJC Global Forum, “If Israel ceases to be a Democracy, it will cease to be”. Stand alongside people of all ethnicities and political backgrounds, alongside pilots and Mossad chiefs, and alongside the hundreds of thousands of patriots protesting for their democratic nation, and realize why these Judicial Reforms are such a problem and why we must stand against them, not as Jews or Arabs or Left or Right, but rather as Israelis.