Minister Dan Meridor, Why Are You Appealing a Bill to Include Protest Activity in the Definition of Terror?

'We in Israel have created many beautiful things, but one of the most successful systems, in the face of which most of the world stands dumbfounded, is the Israeli judicial system.'

Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor (Likud ) has recently filed an appeal regarding two bills approved by the Knesset legislative committee. Yesterday he participated in the home front security drill, and sat in the government bunker.

What was it like? Were all members of government there?

Dan Meridor - Olivier Fitoussi
Olivier Fitoussi

No. Members of the ministerial security committee were present. We were all asked not to talk about it and I am keeping my silence.

But about the atmosphere - was it good? Was anything interesting discussed?

There's always a good atmosphere in the government. Didn't you know that?

You appealed the law recently approved by the ministerial legislative committee which would change the minimum term of the president of the Supreme Court. Why?

Benny Begin (Likud ) and I appealed because we think that it is improper to intervene in the appointment process in an almost personal way. When you are talking about an appointment that is about to take place, I think that personal intervention via legislation against or for a particular person is improper.

It was proposed by National Union MK Yaakov Katz. Why did the committee approve it?

You have to ask them. I am very much against political involvement in the judicial system. There is a big struggle [going on], of which this may be a part. The judiciary has been under attack for many years. The height of the onslaught came during the period of Kadima and Justice Minister Daniel Friedman. But the system is under attack all the time and there is political involvement all the time, in suggested legislation that the High Court president be chosen by the Knesset,in changes in the composition of the court, and so on, and that's not the main one."

Politicians don't understand the importance of an independent judicial system?

We in Israel have created many beautiful things, but one of the most successful systems, in the face of which most of the world stands dumbfounded, is the Israeli judicial system. We need balances between the power of the government and human rights. The role of the court is not to stand for the majority but for justice. Politicians, who rightfully stand for the majority because that's how politicians are, shouldn't get involved in this.

What are they so afraid of?

The court creates a balance vis a vis the power wielded by others - namely, the government, the Knesset, business people, journalists. The court balances between everyone who has power. It protects the individual, the group, the one who is not in the majority and has had enough. There are people who don't like this power [of the court.]

They want to have it themselves?

The whole idea of democracy is not only the rule of the majority but what the majority is forbidden to do. The majority has authority over certain issues. In other issues, individuals have rights and the majority cannot dictate [its will.] I'm glad we have a court that knows how to defend this and I suggest we don't interfere, certainly not now, just before elections, to change the rules of the game.

You are also appealing a second bill which would widen the definition of terror to include protest activity.

Benny Begin, Michael Eitan (Likud ) and I have appealed it on several points. The first is that, to our shame, British emergency regulations are still in force in the country. Those regulations which were used against [pre-state Jewish undergrounds] Lehi and the Irgun, and others - regulations which Menachem Begin said in the first years of the state should be annulled, and which have no place in a democracy. The proposed law offers alternatives for some of these regulations, but for some reason it does not revoke them. So we will remain with this stain on us - emergency regulations. It suited the British Mandate government to treat the natives this way, and it was improper then too. I think that the government should have already revoked these laws.

And the definition of terror?

It is defined too broadly in the proposed law [and includes], for example, an act which causes severe damage to property. Let's say that someone forces the airport to shut down and causes great damage to property, or take the case of a workers demonstration or a political demonstration or what happened in the disengagement [from Gaza]. But if the demonstration was intended to influence the government, and cause property damage but no harm to people - to call this terror turns terror, to my way of thinking, into something not so terrible at all.

Terror is horrible and needs no wider definition, in order to legitimize [opposition to it] ethically. Everyone thinks they should support [the proposed law] because it is against our enemies. In the end it will work against us, and everyone should think, egotistically, whether he really wants this to happen.

And another thing: How is terror any different from violent acts committed by soldiers? Terror operates mostly against the civilian population. Not against the army, but against civilians, a contemptible act to instill fear, for deterrence, and so on. By the way, this is the definition that [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu himself wrote in his book on terror. They broadened it now, not only [against] civilians. I think that this is also mistaken.

Again it's the three of you [appealing this law]. You'll soon be called the rule-by-law gang. How is it that only you three see it this way?

The line we're putting forward and believe in is not a new line.

The new line is in the proposed laws and racism and not democracy. Do you see the erosion?

I see the erosion, a trend toward imbalance and I want to preserve the old balance between war against enemies, against terror and the preservation of human values.

But there are fewer and fewer people to do this.

Everyone must ask himself what he must do. I, from my place in the government and the Knesset, do what I can to preserve Israel the way I think it must be. And it seems to me that the two issues you've asked are worlds apart in their relative importance. The struggle for the Supreme Court is big but the proposed law is not the main thing. The issue of terror and emergency regulations is much more serious and profound, and it's important to pay attention to it.