From his lofty perch as head of the legislative branch, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin presumes to teach the head of the judicial branch about democracy. Levin chose to do this at the very moment that the High Court of Justice is being asked to save democracy from the disciples of Jewish supremacy, those who issued Israel with a new identity card devoid of any mention of it as a democratic state that grants equality to all its citizens.
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On Tuesday, an expanded panel of 11 justices heard 15 petitions asking them to overturn the nation-state law, which the Knesset approved in July 2018. In the name of democracy, Levin sent a letter to Supreme Court President Esther Hayut arguing that the court has no authority to consider whether a Basic Law is constitutional.
“The very fact that the Supreme Court is hearing cases against Basic Laws is a challenge to the most fundamental democratic principles – the sovereignty of the people, the separation of powers and the rule of law,” he wrote.
This isn’t the first time the Supreme Court president has heard from Levin. That champion of democracy never misses an opportunity to question the High Court’s authority. Back in March, when the court ordered then-Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to convene parliament to elect a new speaker in his stead, Levin, then the tourism minister, urged Edelstein to refuse to obey the ruling and assailed Hayut vitriolically.
“If President Hayut wants to put herself above the Knesset, she is welcome to come to the building with the court’s guards,” he said. Terrifying as it is, thuggishness pays under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The assault on Hayut merely raised Levin’s value in Netanyahu’s eyes, and the prime minister deemed him worthy of the job of Knesset speaker.
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Neither Hayut nor the other justices need Levin’s threats to be cautious about intervening in a Basic Law. Hayut and her colleagues on the High Court understand the separation of powers and the authority given to each branch of government very well. But in the absence of a constitution, and when the Basic Law in question is likely to be found to contradict another Basic Law and the values of the Declaration of Independence, there is room for judicial review of its constitutionality.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Hayut acknowledged that overturning a Basic Law would be unprecedented. “We need to be convinced whether the conclusion that arises is that this is a law that must not survive, to the point that it should be sentenced to be overturned,” she said. “Only when damage is done to the state’s core democratic or Jewish principles could there possibly be room to employ the very unconventional weapon of striking down a Basic Law,” she added.
But these efforts by Netanyahu and Levin to prevent the court from even holding hearings on the nation-state law aren’t motivated by concern for democracy. This is a brutal, concerted effort by the heads of the executive and legislative branches to intimidate the judicial branch. Instead of a separation of powers among the three branches of government, they are seeking one branch’s destruction.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.