Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations will be marked by repeated efforts to contravene the justice system’s independence. Again it transpires that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners want to disrupt the delicate, critical balance between the judiciary and legislative branches. The constant threat to enact a law that bypasses the High Court of Justice, which would give the Knesset tremendous power and enable it to pass any legislation it pleases, took another turn this week. The cabinet decided to discuss on Sunday “the British model” to bypass the High Court.
This is a model that effectively denies the court the authority to review legislation, and, more importantly, to strike down laws that contradict the quasi-constitutional basic laws – thus it revokes the supremacy of all the basic laws, including those dealing with governmental powers, holding of elections, and others.
Such a situation, in which the court may only “point out” that a law is incompatible with another one, is indeed suitable for a country like Britain, which is almost the only one in the democratic world that doesn’t have a constitution or basic laws. Of course Britain doesn’t have a law bypassing the court either – because there’s no constitution to bypass – so the term isn’t relevant at all.
Indeed, the British Supreme Court does not have the authority to revoke laws, but the checks and balances in Britain work differently than in Israel. Britain has two legislative houses – the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords can moderate and delay populistic legislation. A parliamentary committee checks whether the laws infringe on human rights. Britain is subject to the European Human Rights Convention, and every citizen or person subject to its government may petition the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France and complain that Britain is infringing on his rights.
In Israel there are hardly any checks and balances like that. Israel has one legislative house and the state is not subject to the European Human Rights Convention or to such an international judiciary authority. Obviously, if the Supreme Court is deprived of its most important power, the Knesset and cabinet will have unlimited power.
History has already shown that there is nothing more dangerous than an unrestricted, uncontrolled government.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.