Twisting the Long Arm of the Law

The Basic Law on Legislation proposed by Justice Minister Neeman makes it clear that what is happening now is the Knesset's twisting of the Supreme Court's arm.

The Basic Law on Legislation proposed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman was criticized on Sunday for a provision that would allow the Knesset to reinstate a law struck down by the High Court of Justice, with a majority of 65 MKs. The dissent came from human rights organizations and opposition Knesset members. To right-wing Israeli politicians, use of the terms "High Court of Justice," "striking down of laws" and "human rights" elicits the sense that a few delusional leftists and enemies of Israel are once again defending the Arabs against the interests of the state.

The last law the High Court overturned, in late February, was one that denied welfare payments to anyone who owns or even merely uses a car.

Sigalit is an art school and teaching college graduate who worked as a freelancer her entire adult life. But when she gave birth to her daughter, her partner having left the country, Sigalit recognized she could not sustain herself and her baby on NIS 2,700 a month and applied for income support. When the National Insurance Institute realized that Sigalit owned an 18-year-old Subaru, bought for her by her mother, it rescinded her welfare rights, on the basis of the law that was later overturned by the High Court.

In 2000 the High Court overturned a section in the Military Justice Law that allowed soldiers to be incarcerated for 96 hours before being brought before a military judge. Imagine, if you will, that you - or your children or grandchildren - could be held for four days for no reason. It is no longer possible, because the High Court overturned an unconstitutional law.

An unconstitutional law is a law that violates the constitution. Israel does not yet have an actual constitution. It has Basic Laws - two of which protect the partial civil rights of its citizens - and a Supreme Court that regards the protection of civil rights as important. The court has struck down 10 laws as unconstitutional - not hundreds, as enemies of the court would like us to believe - and nine of them had to do with the basic rights of Israel's predominantly Jewish citizens. Most of the decisions were made to protect citizens from the tyranny of the government.

That's democracy - protecting citizens from the government, and protecting the minority from the majority. No majority - even one of 120 MKs - can make a ruling democratic if it is undemocratic. An undemocratic ruling is a ruling that unnecessarily violates human rights, whether of a minority group or of an individual. It is not for naught that Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, despite his reputation as a conservative right-winger, supported the abrogation of five out of the six laws discussed by benches on which he sat.

If the Basic Law on Legislation is passed, Prof. Aeyal Gross wrote in yesterday's Hebrew edition of Haaretz, the ruling coalition will bring about a situation in which "we do not yet have a complete democratic constitution, but will already have a way to 'beat' it," to the detriment of Israel's citizens. The coalition will be able to easily pass a law making it possible to arrest anyone without a trial, a law that punishes anyone who opts out of singing the national anthem in public, a law prohibiting women from singing at official events, and more - and no one will be able to overturn it. Well, they will, but the coalition will pass it again.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has already announced that he will advance the draft law, since there is a need for regulating the relationship between the Supreme Court and the Knesset. No doubt. But what is happening now is not an honest attempt to do that in a way that would contribute to Israeli democracy and benefit its residents. In its current formulation the bill makes it clear that what is happening now is the Knesset's twisting of the Supreme Court's arm. To be more precise, it is another attempt by the religious, ultra-nationalist coalition to exploit its great power at this moment to tip the democratic scales and put all the weight on its own side. It would not be the first time for this coalition, but if the law is passed it would presumably be the last time. Afterward, it will no longer be necessary.