Editorial

The Justice Minister Versus Democracy

Alarm bells ring when the minister appointed to defend Israel's courts announces that Zionism will 'no longer bow its head to a system of individual rights'

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaking at the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, August 29, 2017.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaking at the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, August 29, 2017. David Bachar

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday, which said the state was entitled to send asylum seekers to Uganda and Rwanda, but couldn’t jail them for more than two months if they refused to go, is imperfect. It contains various problematic elements, like the court’s approval of secret agreements governing the asylum seekers’ transfer to third countries. Its principal importance lies in the fact that it banned the use of unlimited detention as a way of obtaining “voluntary consent” to leave Israel.

Nevertheless, the prime minister and his senior ministers weren’t bothered by the various problems the court pointed out. Instead, they have been assailing the ruling incessantly. Interior Minister Arye Dery complained that the court “deprived me of a very important tool,” and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan claimed the decision voids the deportation policy of all content. But Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s comments were particularly grave.

The very person who is supposed to defend the court was the one who spoke out in a way that should trouble any citizen who wants to live in a democratic country. Shaked said on Tuesday that “Zionism has become a blind spot in the law” and that “national challenges are a legal blind spot.” She then criticized the justices, saying that for them, “the question of the Jewish majority is irrelevant when we’re talking about infiltrators from Africa who have settled in south Tel Aviv and created a city within a city while pushing residents of these neighborhoods out.”

She said that individual rights are important, but not when they are “disconnected from our national goals, from our identity, from our history, from our Zionist challenges.” And finally, she issued a threat: “Zionism should not – and I’m saying here that it will not – continue to bow its head to a system of individual rights interpreted in a universalist manner.”

Shaked’s remarks reflect the ethnocentric principle that her party, Habayit Hayehudi, is trying to promote. In the view of party members, Israel is first of all a Jewish state and only afterward democratic; they believe even the courts should give Jewish concerns priority over democratic concerns.

With a combination of ignorance and manipulativeness, Shaked has had the gall to harness “Zionism” for her own purposes by claiming that a contradiction exists between Zionism and universal human rights. In other words, Israel should violate human rights in the name of Zionism. In Shaked’s view, Zionism is nothing but a euphemism for racism or nationalism.

The prime minister should have responded to her remarks by firing her. A state that defines itself as democratic cannot tolerate an undemocratic justice minister. Instead, Benjamin Netanyahu actually preceded her by saying, “We’ll have to enact new laws that will enable us ... to send the illegal infiltrators out of our country.” And he thereby proved once again that he, too, is unfit for his office.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel