Analysis |

Netanyahu’s Assault on Judiciary Will Lead to Rule Without Restraint

For those who seek unlimited power, neutralizing the High Court makes sense as it will rescue Netanyahu from the charges against him. This must be stopped

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, May 12, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, May 12, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

If the new government now being formed is based on an agreement to enact an override clause that would let the Knesset annul court rulings that overturn legislation and decisions by government agencies, we must go to war to defend our homes. Not only, or even primarily, the Supreme Court’s home, but the home of each and every one of us.

We’ve already learned that a right-wing coalition will dance to the tune of the far-right, which Bezalel Smotrich, now reinforced by Itamar Ben-Gvir and Meir Kahane’s legacy will celebrate. Woe to us if our lives and rights are in their hands without anyone having the power to curb them.

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From the standpoint of those who seek to rule without restraint, expanding the override clause makes complete sense. The court has overturned very few laws in the past years, either in absolute terms – around 20 – or relative to other democracies. But it overturns many more administrative decisions.

The decision to grant parliamentary immunity to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or alternatively not to remove his immunity, is expected to be one of them. Just as the election was moved up so it would take place before the attorney general could publish his draft indictment of Netanyahu, there is only one goal for the emerging governing coalition – to rescue Netanyahu from the charges slated to be filed against him.

The maneuvering by Netanyahu and his defense team show that he has no desire for the pre-indictment hearing to take place. Rather, he is trying to buy the time he needs to take steps that would rescue him from standing trial without having to persuade the attorney general of his innocence, which would apparently be impossible.

And as a side effect of the campaign to prevent Netanyahu from being called to account for his prima facie corruption, the rule of law and democracy will be destroyed. The rule of law is meaningless if there isn’t one law for everyone, and there’s no bigger contradiction to the rule of law than abusing it to legislate on a specific person’s case in order to enable government corruption to continue running rampant. And there is no democracy in which the government isn’t limited.

Israel is extremely deficient when it comes to the separation of powers as the Knesset is controlled by the executive branch. The country has no system of checks and balances as found in other democracies – no bicameral legislature, no division of power between the central government and regional governments, no district-based elections and no subordination to an international court such as Europe has.

Bezalel Smotrich on election day, April 10, 2019. Credit: Ilan Assayag

The courts are the only limitations on the government. Thus if a majority of Knesset members – which, by definition, any governing coalition has – can defang the court and set its rulings at naught, Israel’s government will be able to do whatever it pleases.

The argument that the government will reflect the will of the people is baseless. Rather, it will reflect the will of the religious Zionist, nationalist and ultra-Orthodox communities, who don’t constitute a majority of Israel’s citizens and who aren’t concerned about the good of the public as a whole.

Nobody can honestly argue that the steps now under consideration serve the good of the country. On the contrary, they are destructive to society, to most of the groups that comprise it, to the citizens who believe that the government is their trustee that works for them, to the economy – who would invest in a country with no rule of law? – and to Israel’s status among the freedom-loving nations.

Naturally we will hear the voices of the professional vermin. We will certainly hear about other countries that ostensibly have similar arrangements. The truth is that there has never been such a thing in any democracy – that every good part and every support for citizens and their rights is destroyed to prevent justice from being served and to obstruct the judicial process. When a regime loses all restraint, be prepared for a campaign of deceit and misrepresentation to justify the destruction of the legal system and the ability of citizens and minorities to defend their rights against the tyranny of the regime.

This is not a legitimate political dispute. This is a tangible and immediate risk to our private homes and our common home. No decent person can support this. Anyone who lends a hand to this will not be able to remove the disgrace they will inflict on themselves. The public that was able to rise up against the rising cost of living will certainly battle against corruption that threatens our home, the foundations of the state and society. And when the people rise up to defend their liberty and rights against those who seek to revoke them, the corrupt ones will flee before them.

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