A Zionist Constitution

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is due to begin a series of three seminars about the constitution today. The spin from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's bureau about a new public agenda and system of government has turned out to be a great success. There is so much talk now about the regime (and the president) that it is quite difficult to remember that only this summer we had a war. That is why the three days of study devoted to the constitution will turn from an academic event into a significant discussion about the system of government.

Among the lesser-known proposals is that of the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), a body that can be considered the right wing's answer to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI). Like many of the other proposals that have been marketed over the past few months, the IZS's also envisages strengthening the parliamentary system rather than shifting to a presidential system. It proposes the following constitutional model:

b Inter-party agreements may be made before the elections. The task of setting up a government will be given to the candidate who heads the largest alliance of parties.

b A majority of 61 votes will be required to topple the government.

b The Knesset will neither lengthen nor shorten its term of office without a two-thirds majority vote.

b The "Norwegian Law" will be passed, stipulating that ministers must have temporary Knesset members fill their parliamentary positions while they are in the cabinet. Naturally these Knesset members will have a vested interest in the stability of the government.

b Failure to pass the budget will not topple the government.

Right-wing or Zionist

Since the IZS was founded by an Israeli from the West Bank, Haaretz columnist Israel Harel, and since the proposal has other right-wing drafters, it is fitting to present this as the right's draft constitution and response to the IDI proposal. This is undoubtedly the most right-wing and nationalist of the proposed constitutions on the committee's agenda. But Harel very much dislikes the term "right-wing constitution."

"The IDI's proposed constitution is less Zionist. Our constitution is more Zionist than theirs. To be a Zionist does not mean being right-wing," he says.

This Zionism finds expression, among other things, in the fact that the Declaration of Independence is brought as a preamble to the constitution, whose first clause states, "The State of Israel is a Jewish state and the national homeland of the Jewish people."

"I don't consider myself right-wing," says political science Professor Abraham Diskin of Hebrew University, one of the IZS constitution's authors. He says he deliberated whether to cooperate with the right-wing, religious individuals involved, including Harel. He decided it was worthwhile "because the central problem facing a proposed constitution has always been convincing these people."

IDI director Prof. Arye Carmon not surprisingly views the matter differently.

"Israel Harel's text is very helpful for ours because it represents an extreme position. It contrasts with the extreme position of other organizations, such as Adalah," the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, Carmon says.

Carmon believes IDI's proposal is in keeping with the values of Zionism's founders. Carmon accuses the IZS members of "not granting any rights to the Arab minority. This is contradictory to the Zionist concept." For example, the IZS constitution would limit rights that harm the "essence of the State of Israel as a national homeland for the Jewish people."

Diskin says in response: "When there is no real argument, they start throwing around names. Many of the clauses in our proposal stress the rights of the Arab minority."

The most right-wing aspect of the IZS proposal is apparently its intention to limit drastically the Supreme Court's authority. Last week, we published the proposals by former minister Prof. Shimon Shetreet on this subject. Shetreet prepared a report on the subject in the context of the Magidor Commission's examination of the system of government. He proposes that the Supreme Court be allowed to declare certain laws contradictory to the constitution but not to annul them, and to do away with the right of public petitioners to stand before a court. The IZS proposal is different but no less far-reaching. These are its components:

b The appointment of justices to the Supreme Court will be subject to Knesset approval. The Knesset may also appoint the members of the judicial appointments committee.

b Public petitioners will not have the right to stand before a court. The High Court of Justice will discuss cases only when the petitioners were directly affected. In this way, the High Court of Justice will be far more limited in examining potential human and civil rights cases.

b The Supreme Court will be able to annul laws only with a bench of nine justices and only when there is an extreme contradiction between the law and the constitution.

b The Knesset will be able to reinstate laws annulled by the Supreme Court within 120 days.

b The court will not interfere in matters of foreign policy, security policy or the budget.

b The court will not base its judgments on precedents from other countries and will interpret laws according only to their text.

Diskin claims his proposal is more moderate than Shetreet's. He says the Supreme Court currently has "no rule and no judge. A person goes to court and it is all a matter of chance. You have no idea when they will invalidate something because the current law permits them to disqualify whatever they want, and this is something that has to be stopped. In the game of democracy," he says, "the laws have to be clear. That is what exists all over the world outside the State of Israel, where the court decides what it likes regarding both the executive branch and the legislative branch. They have become a super-executive branch. I don't belong to the Shas party, but in this respect, I have a covenant with Shas."