Israel’s Judicial Reform: A Dramatic Vote Dividing the Nation

Just two days after the pacemaker was installed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t wait to leave the hospital and rush to the Jerusalem parliament. The judicial reform initiated by him and which has been advancing for seven months will usher in a voting time in late July.
  120 MPs had a heated debate before the vote. 56 members of the opposition party believed that if the bill was passed, it would push the country into a pit of fire, and all abstained and left the venue in protest. In the end, the bill passed in a dramatic 64-0 result. There were sparse applause from the parliamentarians in the venue, and a bigger protest storm quickly swept across Israel.
source of judicial reform

  To clarify the source of Israel’s judicial reform, it is necessary to have a deep understanding of the country’s legal system. Israel’s legal system has three main sources: traditional Jewish law (Halakha in Hebrew), English common law, and other Western legal systems, including parts of German law and the American legal system.
  The principle of Jewish law emphasizes the modern application of Jewish traditional moral behavior, pursues rationality and fairness, and guides people to act in a just, fair and considerate manner. During the period of British Trusteeship from 1920 to 1948, the British legal system was introduced to Israel, which also included the concept of rationality, that is, the emphasis on the rationality and fairness of behavior.
  It is under the influence of the British legal system that Israel has not yet had a written national constitution. The Supreme Court plays a particularly important role in Israel’s political life, helping the people monitor and contain the government. This process of shaping the law through the judiciary compensates for Israel’s lack of a true constitution and gives the Supreme Court a central role in such constitutional issues. But such a constitutional operation has also cost Israeli society a heavy price, that is, the principle of representation has been damaged.
  As Israel’s longest-serving prime minister ever, Netanyahu is not the first leader to recognize Israel’s need for judicial reform and the risks of doing so. However, the changes in the power of various political entities in the country and the great social rift forced him to take this step.
  Tracing the deepest social divisions in Israel begins with Netanyahu’s second term as Israeli prime minister in 2009. During his term of office, Netanyahu faced corruption charges many times, keeping him on the brink of impeachment, and the center-left parties all left him. In the end, he could only rely on being tough on Palestine and Iran to win the favor of the Jewish extreme right. favor, and poured the foundation of his ruling on the parliamentary seats of the far-right party. The extreme right-wing Jewish forces, whose birth rate is already three times that of secular Jews, have gained huge room for development. Relying on the increase in population, the five far-right political parties have become an important force that cannot be ignored in Israel’s political arena.
  Israel is also the only country in the world that implements compulsory military service for all citizens. Male citizens generally need to serve for 3 years, and women 1.5 to 2 years. In 2018, Israel’s Supreme Court struck down a law allowing Orthodox Jews to skip military service. The multi-party ruling coalition chaired by Netanyahu had fierce conflicts in the face of this bill, and the government was eventually dissolved. Since then, Israel has held five elections in four years, and has been unable to form a stable multi-party ruling coalition. In November last year, although Netanyahu successfully formed a cabinet again, he was extremely reluctant. The weak majority of seats in the Congress may be lost at any time and cause the collapse of the government.
  Facing accusations of corruption by the opposition and the growing political ambitions of far-right parties, Netanyahu must push for new judicial reforms. In January 2023, Netanyahu originally wanted to appoint Delhi, the chairman of the far-right Shas party, as the Ministry of the Interior and concurrently as the Minister of Health. However, Delhi was convicted twice on tax issues, and the Supreme Court ruled that the appointee had committed crimes. The record is grounds for a ruling that the appointment is invalid. This is a common case in Israel’s political system where the Supreme Court uses the so-called “principle of rationality” to supervise Israel’s highly centralized government, and it is also the only tool to review the government’s willful and extremely unreasonable decisions. But the Delhi incident also made Netanyahu and his allies firm in their determination to pass a judicial reform bill that prohibits the Supreme Court from revoking government decisions based on the “principle of rationality,” weakening the power of the judiciary to supervise the government and Congress.
  A recent poll conducted by the English-language channel Israel Here News (KAN) showed that 46 percent of Israelis oppose judicial reform, 35 percent support it, and 19 percent are undecided. Since March this year, at most, more than 1 million Israelis took to the streets to protest against Netanyahu’s judicial reform, because they were afraid of the unlimited power that the government might have, and they feared that Netanyahu would become another “news”. Dictator of the Middle East”.
middle way

  Israel is a country with separation of powers and mutual checks and balances, but the judicial reform introduced by Netanyahu is changing the pattern of constraints and balance. In this reform, there are mainly three important amendments: granting government departments the power to appoint Supreme Court judges; limiting the Supreme Court’s power to review parliamentary legislation; allowing parliament to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision on the principle of a simple majority. The result of the actual implementation of these three amendments is that the prime minister will take over all the state power, and the political structure of separation of powers and checks and balances will be broken.
  As the main beneficiary, the ultra-Orthodox are most likely to pass formal legislation exempting the religious group from military service, while Netanyahu, as the current prime minister, will be granted immunity from lawsuits. Reform supporters believe that the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, is interfering with the executive in an undemocratic manner, and that the application of the “principle of rationality” has no boundaries, is too subjective, and the items that can be reviewed are too broad.
  Therefore, the main force to fully promote reforms is naturally the Likud Party of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition party, the Shas Party, and the Religious Zionist Party. Since the members of Israel’s Supreme Court are not elected by the people, the coalition party in power believes that the Supreme Court is too left-leaning and elitist, interferes too much in domestic politics, and often puts minorities (mainly referring to the Arabs in Israel) ) rights over national interests; Jewish Orthodox voters see the Supreme Court’s intervention in the coalition government as an “anti-democratic” overreach. Judging from the judgments of the Supreme Court in the past ten years, the judges are indeed trying their best to limit the rights and interests of Jewish Orthodox groups, including restricting Orthodox residents from establishing settlements in the West Bank, and restricting Jewish laws from intervening in non-religious affairs of the government, etc. .
  Israelis who oppose judicial reform believe that the “principle of rationality” is one of the few means by which the judiciary supervises the already highly centralized Israeli government, and it is also the only tool to review the government’s unreasonable decisions. Once lost, it will inevitably lead to totalitarianism and corruption. The extreme right-wing government, especially several Orthodox Jewish parties, wants to use this to weaken the power of the Supreme Court, thus undermining the Israeli democratic system. Although it still obeys the majority rule on the surface, it cannot prevent the government from overstepping its power. What worries the center-left parties even more is that the appetite of Jewish Orthodox Christians is not limited to controlling the Supreme Court and legally evading military service. They also want to define Jewish law and teaching as the basis of governance of the country, thus making Israel completely lose its secularity and modernity.

  Since the founding of Israel, there has been a core contradiction. Is Israel a country of the Jewish nation or a country of democracy and the rule of law. Over the past 75 years, different rulers have only kept swinging between the two sides, finding a middle way to go down. However, the internal political divisions caused by changes in Israel’s external geopolitical environment, as well as the disproportionate growth of the internal Arab and Orthodox Jewish populations, have made it increasingly difficult for Israel to continue to follow a middle path.
Technology companies evacuated?

  In the final round of voting, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Galante, who clearly does not support reform, tried to delay the parliamentary process, hoping to find a final compromise between the two sides. However, as the main promoters of judicial reform, Attorney General Lewin and other members of the far-right alliance made it clear that if the congressional vote fails, they will resign collectively, which also means the immediate dissolution of the current government, and Netanyahu’s Political careers may be over for good.
  Although Netanyahu is also aware of the huge controversy over judicial reform, and has hinted to the center-left alliance that he is willing to make some concessions, he has already been unable to help himself. The next judicial reform is expected to be voted in the Israeli Knesset as soon as this autumn, that is, around October. If passed, the government would gain greater judicial appointment powers. At that time, Netanyahu will further promote legislation to transfer the power of appointing Supreme Court judges to the hands of Congress, further eroding the independence of the court.
  Although the initial judicial reform has been passed in a dramatic way by the Israeli parliament, the tearing of Israeli society has not stopped, but has continued to expand to the military system and high-tech practitioners. Yaalon, the soul of the Israel Defense Forces and chief of the army’s general staff, made it clear that he did not support judicial reform, and protested against the reform together with 10,000 reservists who refused to perform military service. Several retired chiefs, including the intelligence agency Mossad and the secret service organization National Security Agency Shin Bet, supported Ya’alon’s statement and would no longer continue to work for the coalition government.
  The Israel Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued an official statement stating that 150 large and medium-sized enterprises will suspend operations from July 24, the day after the judicial reform was passed, and called on other companies to join the strike. Constructive dialogue.
  According to a recent survey conducted by the Startup Hub Library under the Israel Innovation Authority, 68% of the 521 technology start-ups surveyed considered moving out of Israel, while 37% of the companies surveyed said they had moved some Funds evacuated from Israel. Hassan, head of the library of the Entrepreneurship Center, believes that once the trend of retreat of technology companies is formed, it will be difficult to reverse.
  The high-tech industry is the lifeblood of Israel’s economic development. Once many high-quality technology companies choose to withdraw, it will undoubtedly bring a devastating blow to Israel’s technological level and economic development quality in the medium and long term. Many well-known entrepreneurs and investors in Israel have also appeared intensively in recent months to support ordinary people who took to the streets to protest judicial reform. As pointed out in a joint statement issued by several well-known investors in the Israeli financial media “The Economist”, the vigorous development of Israel’s high-tech industry has benefited from the country’s innovation and entrepreneurship support system on the one hand, and on the other hand it has attracted capacity of foreign capital. If Israel becomes no longer democratic, foreign investors will withdraw on a large scale, which will undoubtedly seriously affect the growth prospects of Israel’s high-tech industry and the continued prosperity of the economy.
  Facing the resolute Netanyahu government, although the Israeli people are still taking to the streets to demonstrate on a large scale, some people have begun to pin their hopes on the president who has no real power to refuse to sign the bill; It can increase the pressure on Netanyahu, and many people even hope that the United States will use 4 billion U.S. dollars in military aid as a bargaining chip to limit the Netanyahu government, instead of just saying “unfortunate” to the White House spokesman. Describe the passage of the bill.

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