What’s behind the war over judicial reform?

I’ve heard people presenting arguments on both sides of the judicial reform issue, and to hear them talk, this is about principles.

Fun fact: it’s not.

It is, plain and simple, a culture clash.  The State of Israel was founded by socialist leftists with social left ideas (whether they lived up to them or not).  The nation has drifted away from those ideas.  Largely because they don’t work, have never worked, will never work, and have been the cause of vast atrocities throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.  But really, if I’m being honest, because they live better under enlightened capitalism and the idea that people’s lives belong to themselves first and foremost.

Collectivist ideas like the ones on the left have fallen into disfavor with most Israelis.  They don’t want to shove anything down the throats of anyone else.  They just don’t want anyone shoving things down their throats.  It’s like the slogan of some libertarians in the US: “Libertarians: diligently plotting to take over the world and leave you alone.”  For most people, that’s all they want.  To be allowed to live their lives in peace.

As the Israeli public has drifted into a “live and let live” mindset, the collectivists on the left have been gnashing their teeth.  They know that there’s no way they’re ever going to be able to get the public to buy what they’re selling, so they’ve found ways to force it on them.

Enter Aharon Barak and his “Judicial Revolution”.  Most people really didn’t see the threat in what he created, and so there wasn’t a backlash.  More to the point, the media and the intelligensia informed us that if we objected to Barak’s revolution, we were anti-democratic.  How, exactly, is objecting to something as fundamentally undemocratic as allowing the High Court to effectively make itself into the unelected and self-appointed determiner of what is right and what is wrong anti-democratic?  It didn’t matter.  No one wants to be called anti-democratic, so people shut up.

But as time went on, the High Court kept pushing and pushing collectivist and socially left ideas on a public that didn’t have any interest in them.  People were willing to calm down about gay people, but they wanted gay people to show them a little courtesy as well, and not demand that they (a) be 100% accepted by everyone and (b) have Pride Parades in places that were calculated to offend the largest number of people.  On the one hand, stop treating us as different, and on the other hand, embrace our difference, or else.

Haredim were forbidden to have public single-sex events.  Why?  Because that’s unenlightened, and the High Court says so.

But the worst of it was the security issues.  The one collective identity that the High Court doesn’t support is the Jewish one.  And I don’t think there’s a person in this country who hasn’t felt that.  Hostile Arabs build incessantly in Area C, while Jews aren’t even allowed to enter Area A.  Jewish homes are demolished because someone says that the land they were built on once belonged to Arabs, even though none of the supposed owners have come forward to claim it.

As a side note, my uncle was a lawyer in the US.  I told him a couple of months ago that in Israel, you can bring a case before the High Court with no standing whatsoever, and his first reaction was to say that’s impossible.  That I must be wrong.  That no legal system in the world would allow something like that.  Well, no legal system except for the House that Aharon Barak Built.

The left, and I’m not talking about all of the people demonstrating against judicial reform, the vast majority of whom have been lied to about what’s at stake, has a very simple reason to be stirring up a civil war over the subject.  They can’t win by persuading us, so coercing us is all they’ve got.  So the press and the intelligensia (but I repeat myself) are going whole hog to either preserve their stranglehold on the Israeli legal system, or bring the whole country down, like a kind of reverse Samson.

So that’s what this is about.  We have the elites, desperately clinging to the power they usurped some thirty years ago, leading a crusade with Israeli liberals, against a majority right wing that has finally gotten so sick of the abuse that they just want to stop it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think the Judicial Reform is a good thing.  It has some very troubling details, which grant the Knesset almost as much power as that which the High Court has arrogated to itself.  I’m not keen to exchange one dictatorial body for another.  Maybe it’s because of my American upbringing, but I think the entire government has to be locked down and put in metaphorical chains.  They need to be brought to heel and reminded that they work for us.  They are supposed to be leaders, and servants of the people.  Not rulers.

They are supposed to be leaders, and servants of the people.  Not rulers.

The way the US solved this (and say what you want about it, it worked for a long time) was through a written constitution.  Not a conglomeration of Basic Laws, but a single, coherent document that provides limitations on all parts of the government.  Without exception.  Which establishes checks and balances so that the executive and legislative branches have power over the judicial branch, the executive and judicial branches have power over the legislative branch, and the legislative and judicial branches have power over the executive branch.  A kind of rock-paper-scissors that prevents the government from getting above itself.

Of course, the US Constitution had one glaring flaw.  It doesn’t scale well.  It was never meant to deal with a nation of a third of a trillion people.  At this point, there are about three quarters of a million people represented by every member of Congress, on average.  That would be, in Israeli terms, like having a Knesset made up of 12 people.  You don’t get representation at all that way.  With so many constituents, you can’t hear a thing, except from the very rich and those closest to you (i.e., cronies).

But we aren’t that big.  We can have a constitutional system.  One which limits the power of the government.  The most recent proposal I’ve seen (and the closest I’ve seen to something that would work here) is at  I have a small list of things I’d change in it, but it stays out of divisive cultural questions, and solves a lot of problems we have right now.  It prevents us from ever having insane coalition crises and 4 elections in a year again.

I remember back in the 90s (?) when there was a lot of talk about creating a constitution for the State of Israel.  What made it fail was that those writing it insisted on addressing cultural issues in it, and we just aren’t unified enough to do something like that.  But we can create a constitution that fixes the government and lets us work out our differences in a healthy political environment, without people trying to shove anything down anyone else’s throat.  One quote from the intro to that constitutional proposal really stood out for me:

A constitution is not a weapon by means of which one side in a country can impose its position on the other side.

That’s true.  It’s a weapon by means of which the people can impose their control on their government.  And that’s something I think we can all get behind.

About the Author
Lisa Liel lives in Karmiel with her family. She works as a programmer/developer, reads a lot, watches too much TV, does research in Bronze/Iron Age archaeology of the Middle East, and argues a lot on Facebook.
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