Opinion |

Netanyahu Is Indeed the Israeli Legal System's Greatest Defender

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, last week.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, last week.Credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Pool via AP
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

For years Benjamin Netanyahu has been deceiving his supporters and implementing the views of his opponents with regard to the two main areas of disagreement that divide the country: the future of Judea and Samaria, and the powers of the legal system. Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak noted this years ago. “Netanyahu was one of the great defenders of the justice system,” the man who conceived and carried out Israel’s “constitutional revolution” said last week.

To protect this revolution, which expropriated from the legislative branch, and especially from the executive branch, considerable powers, Barak recruited Netanyahu. Barak can testify firsthand as to Netanyahu’s critical role in perpetuating the primacy Barak seized for himself as chief justice, in order to promote the values of the “enlightened person.” For many years, jurists and elected officials alike have been trying to temper the constitutional revolution and, through the override bill, to rein in the Supreme Court’s role as supreme arbiter (and disqualifier) of laws passed by the Knesset. The man who repeatedly blocked the passage of the override law was Netanyahu.

Moreover, for many years a broad coalition has sought to split the role of attorney general into two positions: legal advisor to the government, and the state’s chief prosecutor. Quite a few legal scholars who are far from right-wing, and even some journalists from the far left, support this idea. The obstacle, as always, is Netanyahu. The same is true for proposals to change the way Supreme Court justices are chosen. On all these strategic-legal issues, whose purpose is to defend the values sacred to the left and prevent implementation of conservative values, Netanyahu sided with the left in both word and deed.

Aharon Barak, who formed a close relationship with the head of Likud, was not Netanyahu’s sole source of advice and guidance. (Only in this way, based on facts, could Barak have prounounced that “Netanyahu was one of the great defenders of the justice system.”) When Dorit Beinisch retired as chief justice, Netanyahu said, “I would like to thank you for your long, brave and important service in maintaining the Supreme Court. You have done so in exemplary fashion. ... I have shelved all proposals designed to infringe on or curtail” the courts. Netanyahu also described his personal meetings with Beinisch (“Nothing was ever leaked”). And she: “I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation and I have the sense that, both professionally and personally, I knew, that the prime minister would not abandon us.”

Netanyahu enjoys superman status among his fans, who say “amen” after his every U-turn. This status enabled him to block all the changes proposed by successive justice ministers in his governments whenever Barak or Beinisch opposed them. One can only guess what the Supreme Court’s composition would be today had Netanyahu, due to this aforementioned opposition, didn't prevent any changes to the judicial appointment process.

“There were proposals to curb and curtail the Supreme Court’s powers,” Netanyahu said in an interview with the Knesset Channel around a decade ago. “But I prevented them all. ... There was a bill to hold hearings for Supreme Court candidates; I shelved it. There was a proposal to change the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee; I shelved it.”

Netanyahu’s attacks on the prosecution, despite his harsh language, does nothing to undermine the permanent, substantive legal system headed by the Supreme Court. Anyone who accuses him of destroying the legal system is therefore doing him a personal and factual injustice.

The political right has a clear majority in both the Knesset and public opinion. If it weren’t for Netanyahu, the legal system would have undergone significant reforms that would have restored it to its original status as a system that dwells among its people, one that judges but doesn’t govern. Yet the Israeli left has behaved as it always does – any gratitude is drowned out by its hatred.

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