Basic Law on Democracy

Around 64 percent of the public support strong leadership and 42 percent are willing to turn Israel into a country with authoritarian foundations.

The chances of a constitution being passed in Israel is very slim. In each of the previous two Knessets the respective chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MKs Michael Eitan (Likud) and Menachem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), made Sisyphean but hopeless efforts to do so. The current chairman, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) isn't even trying. Every coalition agreement contains a clause designed to stop the passage of a constitution, which states that any change in a Basic Law requires the agreement of all parties in the coalition.

Even Turkey's democracy is better protected than Israeli democracy. There, at least the army is charged with defending the constitution, which balances the rule of Islam. Here, no one is charged with this function.

As a result, even the basic rules of the game are not obvious in Israel. In fact, democracy can be abolished by a majority vote. In the Israel Democracy Institute's 2009 Democracy Index, Israel occupied a particularly low place in the tables defining the stability of democracy. In addition, around 64 percent of the public support strong leadership and 42 percent are willing to turn Israel into a country with authoritarian foundations. It is no secret that in the ultra-Orthodox and the nationalist ultra-Orthodox communities there is a longing for a state based on halakha, Jewish law.

The Russian experience has taught us that in countries without a strong democratic tradition, the road from a strong leader to a dictator can be very short.

Under such circumstances, the need to enshrine the rules of the democratic game in a constitution is greater than ever. In the absence of the possibility of passing a constitution, a much less comprehensive, but essential, law should be passed: a Basic Law on Democracy. Below is the draft of such a bill:

1. The State of Israel is a democratic state, in which decisions are made by the principle of majority rule, on the basis of general and egalitarian elections held every four years or less.

2. The Knesset freely determines the laws and oversees the cabinet, and the Supreme Court freely oversees the actions of the legislative and the executive branches and of the Israel Defense Forces.

3.The Supreme Court and the IDF are responsible for protecting this law.

4. Any attempt to fundamentally harm the democratic character of the State of Israel shall be considered treason, punishable in accordance with the law.

5. Amendments to this law shall require a two-thirds majority of Knesset members in each reading, but shall not involve fundamental changes to this law.

This is a cautious law, whose purpose is not to allow the High Court of Justice to abolish laws, and it would be invoked only in extraordinary cases of very grave and fundamental harm to democracy. The bill doubtless requires some refinement and must be made to conform with the wording of the existing Basic Laws. A grand preamble could be added, proclaiming that "democracy is the central and essential foundation of Zionism." This introduction could be omitted if doing so would ensure the support of the non-Zionist parties.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman want to make a genuine lasting impression on Israeli democracy, there is no doubt that promoting such a bill is the right way. It will not be easy for parties to oppose it. Would Shas' Eli Yishai or United Torah Judaism's Moshe Gafni oppose a law to enshrining the democratic character of the state in law? if so, let them do so openly. If the current government is too short-sighted, then the one that is established after the next election must make legislating the Basic Law on Democracy one of the planks in its platform. This is an essential step in protecting the generations to come from the very divisive society we are bequeathing them.