We have to save our democracy for our children

Today the State of Israel may take one more step towards the edge of the abyss. It is true that today’s planned votes on the composition of the committee for the selection of judges and the granting of full immunity to basic laws from judicial review are only in the first reading, but the ominous reality that these bills symbolize – of the complete politicization of the selection of judges and of the powerlessness of the citizen in the face of government tyranny, is closer than ever.

This is not a false alarm, but a clear and present danger – there is no democracy in a place where the judges of all courts have to go through the Likud headquarters in order to be appointed to the courts.

There is no democracy in a place where the coalition alone has the ability to enact any law it wants, to call it a fundamental law, and thus deny a citizen the possibility of legal relief if she feels that the legislation harms her.

All this even before the perpetrators of this legislation satisfy their lust in the form of the override clause (allowing the Knesset to override any High Court decision) and the removal of the reasonableness rationale for the High Court striking down laws that violate human rights.

The spokesmen of this government tell us fictional stories about similar methods in other countries, about the political selection of judges in the United States, about the overreach clause in Canada, and so on. But they forget to tell about the checks and balances, the ones that exist in other countries but in Israel are already withering, and if their plot is realized, these checks and balances will disappear altogether.

It is true that in the United States the president nominates justices to the Supreme Court and the federal courts, but in the United States there are a series of checks and balances that we do not have. There is a constitution, there is a Congress that is not always led by the president’s party. The United States Senate has recently thwarted nominees for Supreme Court justices, the last of whom was Merrick Garland (today the Attorney General in) whose nomination was thwarted in 2016 by the Republican majority in the Senate.

In the United States there is also a direct election of members of Congress, who in order to be re-elected do not need the consent of the leader of their party, but the trust of the voters in their district or state. There is also a clear division of powers between the federal government and state governments.

All of these do not exist in Israel, a country where the executive branch long ago practically took over the legislative branch and now seeks to swallow up the judicial branch as well.

If the bills coming up for a vote today pass the legislative process, we will become a country where justice will be determined by the tyranny of a majority based on short-term political calculations, not by the courts. A country where this government, with its many far-reaching legislative proposals and their irresponsible statements, are already giving us a glimpse into a dystopian future. 

The first victims will be the Arab citizens of Israel. Not only because they oppose the current government, but because this government wants to perpetuate its power, and will disqualify anyone that opposes it. The law that seeks to disqualify most of the Arab members of the Knesset is already drafted, waiting for the right moment to be introduced. It allows disqualification from Knesset service for anyone accused of “supporting terror” where the definition of “terror” is up to the accuser.

Then the arrests will come. They have already threatened to arrest the Legal Advisor to the Prime Minister as well as former IDF Chiefs of Staff. When they can, they will do so.

In the future, they will always find justifications for more initiatives. To deny citizenship to those who call for a boycott of the Israeli dictatorship, to further restrict freedom of expression, everything is already on the table – you only have to listen to Yair Netanyahu, Zvika Vogel, Simcha Rothman, Almog Cohen and many other extremists.

That’s why today, and every other day – we will take to the streets, we will fight, we will do everything to protect our country so that our children do not need to choose between their freedom and their homeland. 

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.
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