Dorit Beinish - Dorit Beinish - 21/12/2011
Dorit Beinish speaking at an Herzliya conference, Dec. 21, 2011. Photo by Nir Keidar
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A recent wave of contentious right-wing legislation in the Knesset may endanger Israel's ongoing constitutional efforts, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a conference marking 20 years since the first Basic Law was passed - laws that were meant as a piecemeal effort toward fashioning an Israeli constitution - Beinish said she did not "fully share the grim forecasts as to the future of the constitutional enterprise, though I fear for it greatly."

"However, the supreme court chief added, "the events of the last months, and the various bills that are being submitted to the Knesset, some of which seem to change the basic principles, raise the fear that the structure that has been built here in the last sixty years, and specifically in the last twenty years, is standing on an insecure foundations."

On what she called an "optimistic note," Beinish said that the fact that new Basic Laws were not been legislated does not indicate the end of efforts toward a constitution.

Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak also spoke at the conference, saying that Israel witnessed in recent months a "wave of murky legislation," as well as an attack on the courts that borders on "incitement."

In the Knesset, Barak said, "bills are being considered that, on the face of it, seem unconstitutional. That is not the way the Knesset conducted itself in the past."

"There's a growing feeling that the parliamentary majority wishes to exert its power to the maximum, while freeing itself of the limitations a constitutional democracy imposes on the majority, thus while changing the rules of the game, before the game even ended," Barak said.

The former supreme court chief added that he was "happy that these trends are at an end. I am sure that by stopping them, constitutional democracy has contributed significantly."

Earlier this month, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein warned that proposed legislation to restrict foreign governments' donations to nongovernmental organizations is unconstitutional, adding that if it passes the Knesset, he will not be prepared to defend it in the High Court of Justice.

"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 a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this weekend explaining his unusual decision. "But in light of the blatancy of the case before us, deviating from this policy is justified. What this means is that if these bills become law, I won't be able to defend them against the petitions that will be submitted to the High Court. That is what I intend to tell the Knesset, and afterward the Supreme Court."

The two bills in question were submitted by MKs Ofir Akunis (Likud) and Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu). Both are disproportionate and unconstitutional, Weinstein said.

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