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Israel's War for Judicial Independence

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Yariv Levin in front of the Israel's High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, March 17, 2019.
Yariv Levin in front of the Israel's High Court of Justice, Jerusalem, March 17, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

The leading candidate to be justice minister, Yariv Levin (Likud), proved on Monday that the coming year could be symbolized by a war for the independence of the judiciary.

Levin criticized the High Court of Justice’s order to the state to allow 100 Palestinians to enter Israel to attend a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony at Yarkon Park — an order that overturned a decision by Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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“If anyone needs further proof of the vital and immediate need for a fundamental reform of the judicial system, particularly a change in the makeup of the Supreme Court,” said Levin, “he got it in the form of the outrageous ruling on the entry of Palestinians to Israel.” He then added, “It’s unfortunate that precisely at this time, on the eve of Memorial Day and Independence Day, the court once again chooses that which divides over that which unifies.”

But it would be more correct to say that if anyone needed further proof of the inherent risk of appointing Levin as justice minister, he got it in the form of his response to the High Court’s ruling. Once again Levin reiterated the objectives he has set for himself in the coming term: To give the prime minister and the Knesset unlimited power to decide and to legislate anything they want without anyone interfering.

Levin’s disappointment with the High Court’s decision is groundless, since it was Netanyahu himself, in deciding to block the Palestinians’ entry, who demonstrably ignored a clear ruling by the High Court on exactly this issue last year, when the court reversed an identical decision by then Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Justice Isaac Amit even noted this in the ruling, saying, “It’s regrettable that despite the precedent set with the previous petition, we are being asked to revisit the issue, as if this was a ‘rerun.’”

Netanyahu himself proved that the justices were right when they stated that his decision was not motivated by security considerations, as the state claimed, but by “other considerations, which are unknown to us.” After the ruling, Netanyahu tweeted, “The High Court decision was wrong and disappointing. There is no place for a memorial ceremony that equates the blood of our sons with the blood of terrorists. That’s why I refused to allow entry to the ceremony participants and I believe the High Court should not have intervened in that decision.”

From Levin’s remarks it’s clear that he won’t suffice with tweets and is determined to advance a revolution that would prevent the Supreme Court from overturning decisions by the government and the Knesset. He plans to neuter the High Court to prevent it from fulfilling its mission, part of which is to protect minority views when the majority infringes upon minority rights. Levin thinks democracy begins and ends with the rule of the majority, whatever it may desire. If Levin gets the job it’s clear that the main threat Israel will face in its 72nd year is to the independence of the courts.

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