June 30, 2023
An Unreasonable Government
Over the past six months Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has overwhelmingly favored American media for his interviews, while his appearances on domestic channels are limited to highly partisan venues like Israeli Channel 14. Israelis thus need to follow U.S. media to learn about their government’s intentions. Netanyahu’s interviews in the U.S. are evidence that the forceful drive towards a judicial coup continues unabated.
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu declared that he had discarded "The Override Clause", a controversial and anti-democratic proposal designed to empower the ruling coalition to reinstate any law declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. This is a deception tactic. Even architects of the judicial coup, including Forum Kohelet leaders, have conceded that such an override clause becomes redundant once the legislation of the coup systematically dismantles Israel’s autonomous judiciary.
The Knesset is now pushing forward a bill that will eliminate the “reasonableness standard” in judicial review of decisions made by elected executive branch officials. The ruling coalition intends to pass this bill before the Knesset's summer session ends in late July. If enacted, it would grant the executive branch unrestrained and unchecked power to make arbitrary and unreasonable decisions, such as appointing a criminal convicted of bribery or other corruption as the chancellor of the Bank of Israel. The proposed law would obstruct courts from considering any petition against such unreasonable and potentially corrupt decisions.
While the Knesset debates the bill, basic democratic rights, such as freedom of protest and freedom of speech, are at risk. Activists have been detained at numerous demonstrations near government minister residences, with one activist even being warned to cease his activities.
A special team comprising representatives from the general prosecution and police, is contemplating a criminal investigation against former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and retired Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, both of whom have urged non-violent but determined civil opposition to the judicial coup.
At the same time, government spokespersons are regularly undermining apolitical institutions such as the police and the IDF. In a stark instance this week, right-wing Minister Orit Strook likened the IDF chief of staff and the head of the police to the Russian "Wagner Force", implying that they are illegitimately operating against the government.
Throughout Israel's history no other government has made such persistent efforts to erode the credibility of its most vital national institutions.
Dr. Ido Baum is the legal commentator of the daily newspaper TheMarker. He is an associate professor of law at the Haim Striks Law Faculty at the College of Management in Israel and heads the Louis Brandeis Institute for Society, Economy, and Democracy. He is also a contributor to USA for Israeli Democracy.