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Israel's Likely-to-be New Justice Minister Is a Red Flag

Haaretz Editorial
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Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in Tel Aviv, February 2018
Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin in Tel Aviv, February 2018.Credit: \ Moti Milrod
Haaretz Editorial

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin is the leading candidate to be Israel's next justice minister. The steps he is planning – and he’s already said that if he sees there’s no political willingness to take them, he won’t accept the job – all have a single goal: subordinating the legal system to the political one, and thereby emptying Israeli democracy of its commitment to liberty, equality and human rights, and reducing it to a mere procedural mechanism.

Levin is a lawyer by training, and he knows quite well that legal principles cannot exist without an independent legal system. Unlike outgoing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, he comes armed with knowledge, which makes him a cynic and his agenda Machiavellian. The appointment of a politician who openly declares his intent to make radical changes in Israel’s legal system and in Israeli democracy’s system of checks and balances is a step whose impact cannot be understated.

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The moves Levin is planning include enacting a Basic Law on Legislation that would limit the High Court of Justice’s ability to review laws enacted by the Knesset, effectively giving it the power to intervene only against laws that undermine the principle of majority rule. In addition, his version of the Basic Law on Legislation would require new Basic Laws to be passed with a majority of at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members, and then be approved in a referendum.

>> Israel's likely next justice minister has the Supreme Court in the crosshairs

Levin wants existing Basic Laws that weren’t passed by at least 61 MKs to be submitted to a referendum as well. The laws in question happen to be the two Basic Laws that protect fundamental human rights in Israel – the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty and the Basic Law on Freedom of Occupation. Thus Levin’s appointment could well result in their repeal. If that happened, especially given the existence of the nation-state law, liberty and equality would no longer have any special status in Israeli law.

Levin also plans to completely politicize judicial appointments by changing the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee to give politicians a majority on the panel. Moreover, he wants candidates for the Supreme Court to undergo public hearings in the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

There’s a real concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past blocked proposals to limit the court’s power, will be tempted during the coming term to allow this revolution in order to avoid standing trial. After all, what is a parliamentary immunity law worth if the High Court can overturn it? If the court’s power isn’t limited, it may well overturn the legislation Netanyahu’s cabinet colleagues will propose, whether it’s an Israeli version of the French law that bars indictments of sitting prime ministers or an expanded parliamentary immunity law.

Levin’s appointment is a red flag. The opposition, civil society and anyone who fears for the future of Israeli democracy must do everything in their power to block the destructive measures he is planning, which would leave the minority subject to the tyranny of the majority.

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