Sa’ar Forgot What Democracy Is

By refusing to accept the High Court ruling against the detainment of asylum seekers, the outgoing interior minister is undermining the rule of law.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

“This is a ruling with an upside-down set of norms. I don’t accept it as the last word. The government and the Knesset must not accept it,” Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said in the Knesset on Monday, referring to the High Court of Justice’s ruling that forbids the continued detention of asylum seekers at Saharonim Prison and the Holot detention center.

He said of the court’s order to stop detaining asylum seekers in Holot: “Yes, we are definitely willing to take into account some of the court’s remarks concerning the facility – not all of them, because there are comments that are not correct, but in no way is it possible to give in on Holot.”

Regrettably, it is necessary to remind Sa’ar of a fundamental concept: The government and the Knesset cannot refuse to accept a High Court ruling. Such refusal undermines the rule of law.

Sa’ar hasn’t absorbed the lessons of the previous round in this matter, in which he refused to honor the earlier High Court ruling and concocted a new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which ended up being voided yet again by the High Court. The justices noted that the new amendment included the same legal and moral flaws as the previous one that had been struck down.

Now Sa’ar is trying to initiate yet another amendment that would allow for the detention of asylum seekers. As improper as it is for him to announce his resignation as interior minister yet continue serving until “after the holidays,” it is all the more wrong for him to persist in amending the Infiltration Law to his liking, despite the Supreme Court’s clear opposition, instead of leaving this file for his successor.

Something very bad has happened to the Israeli right, which used to value civil rights no less than did the left. Sa’ar’s defiant assault on the High Court of Justice is part of a comprehensive attack by this right-wing government against the rule of law. The assault includes, among other things, the proposed legislation that would allow a special Knesset majority, for a limited time, to re-legislate a law that the High Court has already struck down.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and his representative, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, were right to object to Sa’ar’s effort to limit the authority of the High Court. But that isn’t enough. Weinstein, who had okayed the two laws subsequently voided by the High Court, must not repeat the same mistake and support a third such bill, which will contain the same constitutional and ethical defects inherent in detaining people without due process.

The attorney general must make it clear to Sa’ar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who also expressed dissatisfaction with the court’s ruling) and the members of the Interior and Environment Committee – who mocked the ruling during Monday's hearing – that their mandate obligates them to preserve democracy and the rule of law, and that a vital part of this obligation is preserving the High Court’s authority.

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