A Revolution for One Man’s Sake

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut at the Israeli Bar Association, May 27, 2019.
ליאב פלד

In her speech to the Israel Bar Association in Eilat on Monday, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut denounced the harsh statements against the judiciary that ministers and Knesset members have been making ever since the election campaign began, and which they have continued voicing in the wake of the election as part of the negotiations to form a government. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who attended the conference as well, also rejected claims that his staff is persecuting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying this is “complete nonsense.”

Hayut criticized proposals to curb the High Court of Justice and quoted Netanyahu, who said a year and a half ago that Israel needs an independent court. “What has changed?” she asked. “Has something happened that justifies veering away from these important principles?” Hayut answered her own question in the negative. What she meant was that nothing has changed in the balance of power among the three branches of government that would justify weakening the judiciary, as the fifth Netanyahu government is plotting to do.

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But this was a rhetorical question. What has changed is clear to anyone with a brain: The attorney general announced his decision to file three indictments against the prime minister, subject to a pre-indictment hearing. We must not forget this for one moment: Netanyahu’s sole motive for the revolution in the legal system that his new government intends to foment is to keep himself from standing trial. To put it simply, this is a self-interested judicial revolution.

This certainly doesn’t mean there’s no place for debate over the proper relationship among the three branches of government or an open discussion about how much power the High Court should have to overturn laws. Rightist parties have the right to promote changes and propose reforms in the relationship among the branches of government, and there are no grounds for invalidating such discussions a priori as anti-democratic.

But Netanyahu and his natural partners are feigning innocence when they depict their reforms as substantive structural changes that reflect legitimate differences of opinion between the right and the left. It’s clear to everyone what’s really on the agenda: destroying the balance among the branches of government and removing the checks imposed by the judiciary for the sake of protecting Netanyahu from standing trial. And that’s after Netanyahu did everything in his power – including dragging the entire country into early elections – to postpone his pre-indictment hearing, so as to give him time to form a government and complete the legislation he needs to enable him to avoid standing trial.

Netanyahu and his partners are deceiving the public. While he was under investigation, Netanyahu argued that there would be no indictment because there was no wrongdoing. During the election campaign, he said he wouldn’t enact a law to grant himself parliamentary immunity. Now that he has won the election, he has decided to push the immunity law with all his might. The deal of the century has been replaced by the conspiracy of the century.

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