IIsrael, like many other democracies, is a deeply polarized society. The public debate seems to revolve around the principle “Are you ours or our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13).
In the debates on the interminable Arab-Israeli conflict and the occupation of the territories, on the relationship between religion and the State resulting from the self-definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country, it was easy to guess on which side of the barricades verbal, political and sometimes even physical each would be situated.
It is interesting to observe that, in the reactions to Mr. Netanyahu’s new government plan to reform the judicial system, not only has the number of demonstrators reached an unprecedented scale, but there are, both in Israel and in the Jewish communities from all over the world, prominent figures and many individuals – including center-right Zionists of conviction – who one would never expect to see on the anti-government side. Even former president Reuven Rivlin, a lifelong Likud member, and many other members of Menachem Begin’s old guard [premier ministre de 1977 à 1983] publicly expressed their deep concerns. In the international arena too, “friendly” states showing their longstanding support for the State of Israel are changing sides.
This is reminiscent of the January 6, 2021, uprising in Washington, which was seen as an attack on the fundamental values and institutions of American democracy. This feeling, shared by fervent defenders of the State of Israel ” For better and for worse “is present in the objections to the proposed reform.
To measure the extent of the reactions, the President of the Supreme Court, in an unusual step, pronounced a speech, in a professional forum, on January 12, broadcast live on Israeli media. In particular, she said that what are passed off as mere “reforms” is, both in intention and in fact, a plan to break down some of the most fundamental bases of the separation of powers and the rule of law, without which no state can legitimately claim to be democratic.
The four main reforms suggested – and others are announced – may seem innocent enough: making all judicial appointments a matter for the executive and parliament (isn’t that the case in the United States and elsewhere?) ; requiring a super-majority of judges to invalidate a parliamentary law (which is not, on its face, an unreasonable proposition); also allow Parliament to overrule constitutional decisions by judges by simple majority (don’t Canada or Finland have similar provisions?); finally, prohibit the judiciary from having recourse to the criterion of “unreasonableness” or even “extremely unreasonable” when he examines the actions of ministers and civil servants, isn’t that just a technical question, food for thought for law professors?
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