Opinion

Decent Israelis Must Challenge Netanyahu's Attempt to Turn Israel Towards Autocracy

The government is proposing legislation to dismantle Israeli democracy from its foundations. We know other elected governments have turned democracy into totalitarian regimes. Israel will not join them

Members of the 'Zionist Union' (MK Tzipi Livni in the middle) demonstrate against the legislative override bill, April 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

The legislative override bill facing Israel's Knesset is not just another bill. We must not give in to the temptation of a debate over how many legislators’ votes are required to deprive citizens of their rights before the High Court of Justice may step in to intervene. On the scales is a sweeping move to dismantle Israeli democracy from its foundations up.

These dangerous measures are in the common interest of Habayit Hayehudi – the High Court is what prevents the party from legalizing the illegal settlements, from annexation and from establishing a single state without equal rights – and of a weak prime minister, a criminal suspect who uses discriminatory, ultranationalist legislation to signal to his political base out of personal interest: the destruction of Israel’s judiciary and its law enforcement agencies.

The pincer movement of another bill, the proposed Basic Law on the Nation-State – which intentionally eliminates the description "Jewish and democratic" and refuses to include the word "equality" as it appears in Israel’s Declaration of Independence – and the legislative override bill fundamentally alter the state’s entire system of constitutional principles.

After its completion, any government will be able to deprive citizens and groups of fundamental rights – and also of the protection of the High Court.

Three years of profound damage to the primacy of the state, of laws whose intention is to silence, of legalizing illegal acts through the land expropriation law and of sabotaging the media and human rights organizations leave no room for doubt.

The ground is being laid for more annexation laws, oppression, the "French law" prohibiting the prosecution of a sitting prime minister and whatever it takes to keep Benjamin Netanyahu in power and to advance the agenda of Habayit Hayehudi.

 Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett
Olivier Fitoussi

Pronouncements by Habayit Hayehudi figures such as "a bulldozer should be sent in to raze the High Court" and “Zionism will not bow its head to human rights” prepared the ground, and today even citizens who could be hurt by the government’s tyranny support the move or are indifferent to it.

"Democracy means that the majority decides," explains Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

But democracy is a system of rights and principles to which every person who was elected by the majority is beholden. Only in dictatorships are there no limitations on the government. There have been governments that were elected democratically that turned democracy into a totalitarian regime. Israel will not join them.

Seeing as the Knesset is controlled by the cabinet, in the event the move against the High Court is not stopped, we will be left with a single authority – the cabinet – and with a single person, the prime minister, who does as he pleases and pays his partners, a minority that exploits its political power in the government. Today this minority is the Haredim and the settlers, tomorrow it will someone else.

Israel’s citizens, including women, minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, owe their rights to the High Court. Its purpose is to verify that the legislation and actions of the government do not violate citizens’ constitutional rights. That is the meaning of the primacy of the state. The supremacy of law, Menachem Begin called it: "Fixing the civil freedoms as the ‘fundamental law’ or ‘supreme law’ and permitting the panel of judges to cancel the validity of law if, in opposition to the fundamental law, it contradicts civil freedoms."

No comfort can be found for any decent person, in the opposition or the coalition, in being part of a privileged group. The pretext for the unjust laws will be "the Arabs" or "the foreigners."

It is not for the High Court that we are fighting, but rather for the values of the state and its citizens.

As Begin also said: "History teaches that as long as a despotic regime does not succeed in eliminating the law...as long as a public atmosphere exists favoring the sanctity of the conscience of the judge and the independence of the law, judges will know to face the rulers and choose the dictates of their conscience over the pressure of the authorities."

Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister, is a member of the Knesset for the Zionist Union and serves as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee