The U.S. Supreme Court ruling abolishing women’s rights over their own bodies should serve as a warning sign, and not only to American society. This ruling takes the rights and status of women backward, creates discrimination between wealthy women and poor women and endangers the lives and health of women who, as a result of the ruling, will be forced to undergo back-alley abortions.
In Israel, too, people must understand that judges with a commitment to human rights, judges with human and societal sensitivity, are not a luxury. They are essential to genuine democracy, which goes beyond mere majority rule.
In Israel, a revolution in how judges are chosen was introduced by former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Instead of a system based mainly on professional excellence and suitability of personality, a method was adopted of appointing right-wing-ultranationalist and religious judges, members of the “old boys club” whose main virtue is their lack of commitment to human rights – based on the mendacious claim that before Shaked’s tenure, the judges were leftists, secular and anti-Zionist.
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The sabotage of the judicial branch, whether by the appointments themselves or by changing the appointment process, as Likud recently proposed, is one of the salient markers of a transition to a populist form of government. It seeks to smash the system of checks and balances – which is in any case very weak in Israel – and give the government unlimited power.
“Majority rule” does not adequately protect everyone, especially in a society that does not have a broad liberal consensus. Without judges who are devoted to human rights, legal protection is for all intents and purposes denied those who are not part of the ruling majority, including asylum seekers, Arab citizens and Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank.
It is also denied to any group that faces prejudice and a tradition of discrimination, such as women, LGBTQ people and of Ethiopian Israelis, because their protection relies on Basic Laws and judicial oversight. But judicial oversight has value only if the judicial branch is independent and unthreatened, and its judges consider the protection of every person to be their mission.
In the early 1950s, then-Attorney General Haim Cohen directed the government at the time not to prosecute abortionists to bring criminal charges against those who terminated except in cases of serious medical malpractice. He issued this directive despite the British Mandate law then in force that banned abortions (as well as same-sex sexual activity, which he also directed not to criminalize). This is the kind of judge Israel needs.
The political power that faces off against the Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir camp must place this demand front and center.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.