The letter Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a bit late in coming, but it's a good thing it was sent. Apparently Weinstein, who had been wary about using harsh rhetoric or confronting the government, also understands that Netanyahu, his ministers and coalition have crossed a red line separating democratic countries and regimes that persecute their opponents.
"The attorney general's policy is to refrain as much as possible from declaring laws unconstitutional, out of respect for the legislative work of the cabinet and Knesset," Weinstein wrote in his letter, apparently trying to explain his hitherto cautious approach. In ordinary times, it might be important to be cautious like this, but the wild legislative initiatives from the current Knesset and certain ministers have rendered such caution dangerous.
Weinstein's reasoning is largely of a legal nature. He made it clear in his letter that he can't defend two bills that would limit contributions to human rights groups. "If these bills become law, I won't be able to defend them against petitions to the High Court of Justice," Weinstein wrote. The two proposals, one sponsored by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud) and one by MK Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu), have been shelved at Netanyahu's request. They are, as Weinstein put it, "flawed by their unconstitutionality" and are disproportionate.
But the most important part of Weinstein's letter deals not with legal standards or even constitutional pitfalls. It's based on an in-depth understanding of democracy and freedom of expression. Weinstein contends that, instead of permitting open discourse and a lively "marketplace of ideas," the two bills seek to stifle expression. The proposals, he wrote, would put Israel "on par with a handful of countries that have taken similar steps, and I doubt the State of Israel should envy these regimes or act like them."
So better late than never. The attorney general's decisive new vigor is hugely important, and Weinstein's fitting advice will give Netanyahu a way out of the corner he has painted himself into.
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