Another Assault on the High Court

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset, June 15, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz in the Knesset, June 15, 2020.Credit: Adina Walman / Knesset Spokesperson

In the chaotic reality of Israel, there could be nothing more predictable than the right-wing thugs’ assault on the High Court of Justice following its ruling on Thursday that the Knesset must give justification for the amendment on the Basic Law on the Government that created the rotation agreement for the position of prime minister.

This time it wasn’t thugs beating up protesters in city squares – to which the leader of the right turns a blind eye – but rather those wearing suit in the Knesset and the government.

“A scandalous decision,” fumed lawmaker Yariv Levin. “The High Court is laying the groundwork for crossing the red line in interfering in Basic Laws,” he said. “The responsibility is Netanyahu’s, for raising this legal monster,” lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich claimed. The attempt by the right wing to delegitimize this ruling is only the latest link in a chain of assaults on the High Court justices, as part of the general trend to crush the rule of law in Israel, not coincidently, intersecting with the opening of the evidentiary part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial.

Right-wing politicians’ claims that the High Court is undermining the people’s sovereignty is baseless, and it’s no wonder that the lawyers representing the right wing in the High Court are addressing the matter in a completely different tone. An amendment to the Basic Law on the Government allowed the establishment of a mutation of a unity government suited to the measurements of the man who was indicted and refuses to step down, enabling at least on paper a rotation that would not force a resignation as ministers indicted for serious offenses must do.

It is this amendment – which made it possible for Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party to join Netanyahu’s government while breaking their promise to their voters – that is undermining the sovereignty of the people and utterly subverting the will of the voter.

The claim that the High Court doesn’t have the power to consider annulling clauses of Basic Laws – which is promulgated by right-wing politicians from Likud’s Levin to Yamina lawmaker Ayelet Shaked – is not the same claim Likud’s lawyers and Netanyahu are presenting to the court. In a hearing on petitions held three weeks ago, Likud’s legal adviser Avi Halevi said that the Knesset must not legislate clauses on Basic Laws that contradict the democratic character of the state, or cause lawmakers to breach the faith of the public.

The few times that High Court justices examined the possibility of striking down Basic Laws, they declared that such a powerful tool must be used only in rare cases. The argument is not over the question of whether they have the power, but whether the laws of a rotating government fatally damage the democratic character of Israel or constitute misuse, to the point of real corruption, of the power of the Knesset to legislate Basic Laws. This is what an expanded bench of nine justices is to discuss. Not only is there nothing wrong with this, but this is the essence of the constitutional dialogue in the sick Israeli democracy.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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