Editorial |

Basic Law on Disgrace

Haaretz Editorial
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Lawmakers in the Knesset, December 2020.
Lawmakers in the Knesset, December 2020.Credit: Danny Shem Tov / Knesset
Haaretz Editorial

As part of the efforts to arrive at a “compromise” – and before Benny Gantz announced that he would not respond to Likud demands to undermine the rule of law – there was another attempt to promote an amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset that would prevent its dissolution.

In August, when 100 days had passed since the formation of the government and a budget still hadn’t been approved, the Knesset was meant to dissolve. But then there was the “Zvi Hauser compromise,” under which the Knesset would not dissolve even if the budget weren’t passed. This constitutional norm was breached and the new deadline was set for December 23. The constitutionality of the Hauser compromise is still pending before the High Court of Justice, and the question was asked whether the compromise was a misuse of basic legislation.

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When dams are breached, it’s hard to stop the flood. And indeed, the new date is tomorrow, and once again the Knesset is threatening to amend basic laws overnight, to delay the dissolution of the Knesset by two more weeks. This is a total debasement of the basic laws, emptying them of all meaning. Basic laws, including laws that establish the core method of governing – i.e., elections – are losing their significance and turning into tools in the hands of cynical politicians concerned primarily with their own narrow interests. Laws that are meant to provide stable groundwork are subject to the political whims and the temporary convenience of a handful of decision makers, who, using political trade-offs, manage to garner 61 votes in the Knesset.

There have been frequent and speedy amendments to basic laws in the past, but this Knesset has increased this practice exponentially. Its frequent tinkering with basic laws is unprecedented and mostly indicative of contempt. A government that was formed partially on a base of liberal votes, who were committed to the protection of democracy and to restraint and respect for the basic laws and the regime, is abusing the basic laws. In other countries, constitutional changes require a special majority of the legislature, or a separate, lengthy process that allows for intense public discussion.

The amendment of the Basic Law on the Government, which enabled a government of alternates, was done without almost any participation of the public or legislative experts, and certainly with no thought of its implications. Then came several amendments to the Basic Law on the State Economy, which were aimed at continuing to run the country without a budget. Then they came up with the Hauser compromise and now the “Haim Ramon compromise,” as amendments to the Basic Law on the Knesset.

The Knesset must show restraint in dealing with basic laws. If the rules of the game require that it dissolve, then it must dissolve. Repeatedly bending the rules to benefit a political majority seeking to preserve itself destroys the already shaky constitutional infrastructure that the state rests on, and exchanges it for the lofty constitutional principle of “grab what you can” – the total opposite of what basic laws are meant to represent.

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