Tzipi Livni's Great Responsibility

Livni will have to restore confidence between the two systems and bring the function of the justice minister back to its traditional place as the representative of the judicial system to politicians.

Amir Fuchs
Amir Fuchs
Amir Fuchs
Amir Fuchs

A great responsibility has fallen on Justice Minister-designate Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah). The extremely stormy period that Israel's democracy has experienced, and the many shocks endured by relations between the justice system and politics, make the role of justice minister a very influential one at this time.

First of all, Livni will have to restore confidence between the two systems and bring the function of the justice minister back to its traditional place as the representative of the judicial system to politicians, and as protector of that system from politicians.

Livni will have to thwart attempts, which have become almost routine, to do the judicial system harm. We saw this in the attempt to replace representatives of the Israel Bar Association on the Judicial Appointments Committee by means of a retroactive law promoted by outgoing Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman (and stopped only at the last minute ). We saw it in repeated efforts to compromise the authority of the High Court of Justice to criticize Knesset legislation, and the right of human rights groups to petition it. We saw it in the initiative, as part of a Basic Law on the Legislation, to pass a clause that would reverse the constitutional revolution - granting the Knesset the authority to overturn Supreme Court rulings with a majority vote of 61 lawmakers.

But it is not enough to put up a fortified wall against such initiatives. The justice minister-designate must also promote very essential reforms. For example, the establishment of a court of appeals that will allow the Supreme Court - which is today buckling under the burden of handling appeals of district court rulings - to focus on developing jurisprudence.

The position of attorney general must also be split into chief prosecutor and legal adviser to the government, without compromising the independence and authority of either one of these positions.

Moreover, as chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, Livni will have to be the "guardian at the gate" fighting against antidemocratic legislative initiatives that are damaging to Israel's Arab citizens and to freedom of expression. The previous Knesset saw dozens of bills like this proposed; a few of them were even passed into law.

Of the law that passed in the previous Knesset that allows for sanctions against people who call for a boycott of Israel, Livni said - and justifiably so - that its purpose was to "shut the mouths of Israel's citizens." With regard to debate over proposals by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud ) and Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu ) for bills limiting foreign funding of human rights groups, Livni said: "Netanyahu's government is afraid of criticism and tries to take control of anyone who does not think like he does. These bills join a murky and dangerous wave in this coalition, a wave whose entire purpose is to instill fear in courts, the media and groups with a different opinion."

In light of these remarks, we may expect Livni to examine the possibility of repealing laws of this type that have been passed, such as the aforementioned boycott law, the law on community acceptance committees for new residents and the so-called Nakba Law, which allows the finance minister to reduce government funding to institutions that negate the existence of the state.

It will also come under the aegis of the next justice minister to implement a brief but very important clause in the coalition agreement signed between her party, Hatnuah, and Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu: "The parties will uncompromisingly fight against manifestations of racism of any and all kinds." This struggle must take place at every level, including the criminal level, to fight against the dissemination of racist material by rabbis, such as the book "The King's Torah."

On the educational level, the fight must involve inculcating the values of democracy and tolerance as part of civics classes in schools. At the political level, it must be seen in the way that lawmakers themselves behave. A Knesset that passes laws like the community acceptance committee law should not be surprised when Ethiopians are segregated in Kiryat Malakhi. Thus, the uncompromising struggle should start from above, against the racism that has spread in the legislature.

Attorney Amir Fuchs is researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.

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