The changes in status to the Supreme Court that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promoting contradict the vow he made two months, ago during the ceremony for then newly-minted President Reuven Rivlin, when he promised not to seek such changes. It’s impossible to know if Netanyahu explicitly said things that he did not believe, or if he is now reversing his position in an attempt to give Zionist Union political cover to enter the government as a last ditch attempt to save the Supreme Court. In any case, implementing Netanyahu’s proposed changes would critically damage some of Israel’s greatest achievements, which stand as very important tenets of its democratic nature. Namely, the professionalism and independence of its judicial branch, as well as the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.
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The courts, led by the Supreme Court, are a professional system whose founders were smart enough to release it from the need to satisfy political factions. The law and public service are its only guidelines. For that reason, the courts still have the public’s trust, despite the years-long smear campaigns against it by politicians and special interests. Transferring the balance of power on the justice selection committee to the politicians means only one thing: Political considerations and the desire to satisfy the politicians will seep into judicial rulings in every instance, the law will blur, and a central tenet of Israel’s democracy – an independent court bound only by the law – will be no more.
The prime minister is also looking to destroy the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. Netanyahu is seeking to implement a change that would allow for re-legislation, with a majority of 61 MKS, of a law that the court struck down for being in violation of a Basic Law. Overturning a Supreme Court decision would be possible with nothing more than the coalition majority, which would allow the coalition to discriminate against minorities that are primarily represented by the opposition, be they the Arab population (today) or the settler population (tomorrow). The importance of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom lies in its effectiveness at defending the weak and minorities, whose rights are often ignored. The Supreme Court’s decisions to strike down possible laws found to be in violation of this Basic Law bolstered Israel’s status in the world as a constitutional democracy, and even if the court’s decisions have garnered criticism from some, they’ve also cumulatively improved human dignity and freedom in Israel.
Moshe Kahlon, who has declared he will not agree to the steps being taken against the court, is right. Let’s hope he sticks to his position.