We cannot remain silent in the face of the defamatory remarks made last week by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Speaking at an Israel Bar Association conference, she attacked the High Court of Justice for refusing to reject out of hand all challenges to the nation-state law. Shaked said: “If the court rules that even Basic Laws are not immune to judicial review, it will deprive the people of the possibility of influencing constitutional arrangements by means of its representatives. Thus the people will end its role in what has until now been our democratic system.”
Without batting an eye, Shaked accused the High Court of harming the foundations of democracy — a process, she said, began under then-Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. The harsh response of MK Benny Begin (Likud) who said, “these coarse remarks already touch upon the restraints that protect us all,” is the best evidence that Shaked’s comments exceeded the bounds of internal democratic disagreement. Retired Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch accused Shaked of crossing a red line, saying the justice minister’s comments betrayed “a misunderstanding of democracy. These are demagogic statements that belong to the methods of a different type of regime.”
Shaked’s demagoguery indeed knows no bounds. She uses the instruments of democracy to undermine democracy. She relies on the fundamental principle of majority rule to strike a blow against other fundamental principles of democratic regimes. The nation-state law has erased equality from the definitions of the state, granting its Jewish citizens superiority over its non-Jewish citizens.
Even President Reuven Rivlin said the law lends legitimacy to the classification of citizens. A government that is not based on equality cannot be democratic. In the name of democracy, Shaked wants to undermine the values of democracy. Any law can be justified, ostensibly, in the name of the people — who, as she reminds us, hold the sovereignty in a democracy. As if the nation-state law did not distinguish between the totality of the state’s citizens, who are supposed to be sovereign, and the “Jewish people,” defining the latter as a special group that owns the state and has sole authority to determine its character.
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Scrutiny of the nation-state law, which abolishes equality and undermines the state’s democratic character, is the core role of the High Court as the protector of democracy. It would be a mistake to believe that the court on its own has the strength to deal with Shaked’s revolution, because it is a victim of the same assault against our democratic regime. Powers of all kinds — legal, public, academic and political — must unite against Shaked’s overbearing tactics, whose purpose is to change the nature of the government and the state. They are a clear danger to Israel’s character.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.