What’s at Stake in This Election?

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A 3-pronged plan to change the balance of power in government threatens everyone who cares about human rights, regardless of politics

Flash 90

What’s at stake in this election? Is there any point to making the effort to go out and vote for the third time within a year?

With regard to a long series of issues, nothing will change as a result of which political bloc comes out on top. On issues of security — from Gaza to Iran — we will continue to face the familiar challenges; it is clear that, despite all the heated rhetoric, it makes no difference who is at the helm of the Defense Ministry — Bennett, Ashkenazi, or Liberman. The two Benjamins (Netanyahu and Gantz) are cautious and level-headed men, who are in substantial agreement about the importance of developing Israel’s military power and on the limits to its use. Everything else is just an election spin.

So too with foreign affairs. How Trump and Putin relate to Israel reflects only their countries’ interests and has very little to do with who wins two more Knesset seats. The same applies in reverse: both Netanyahu and Gantz will try to move forward on the Trump administration’s Deal of the Century, within the boundaries set by Trump and the international community. The quick retreat and awakening, within days, from the euphoria of “annexation now” stemmed from a realistic assessment of the situation. Everything else is just an election spin.

The same applies to many domestic matters: education, the economy, the healthcare system, social services, and infrastructure. None of these have received any serious attention in the course of the campaign. Even the religion-and-state controversy isn’t up for a genuine resolution, because it is crystal clear that the ultra-Orthodox will continue to have the final say on these issues. It’s an attractive issue, that draws votes for a party that puts it on its agenda, but practically speaking, it’s just an election spin.

Nevertheless, it is essential, truly critical, that we all make the effort to vote, because today is the day on which the future of our constitutional regime will be decided. The current justice minister, who is the prime minister’s echo chamber , and other senior figures on the right, have declared that they will try to generate a radical change in the system of checks and balances between the “political” and the “judicial.” We are now being threatened by an imminent “anti-constitutional” revolution, proceeding along the following lines:

The first course would be the enactment of an Override Clause, which would give the Knesset the last word on every matter, simply by a major coalition vote. This would have far-reaching implications: for example, the coalition could pass a law granting an incumbent prime minister immunity from criminal liability. The Supreme Court would strike down such a law, on the grounds that it is tailored to a specific individual, retroactive, and violates the principle of equal treatment under the law. But the Knesset could override the court’s ruling and pass it again, and that would be the end of the story. What is more, in order to “buy” the ultra-Orthodox parties’ support, one might expect extreme legislation on matters of religion and state (such as the exemption from military service to all ultra-Orthodox men and Sabbath observance in the public domain). If the Supreme Court invalidated such legislation, once again the coalition could call the override clause to the rescue, and nothing could be done about this surrender.

The second course would be a major change in the procedure for selecting judges. The current Judicial Appointments Committee, which consists of both politicians and legal professionals and requires that the two groups reach a consensus, would be replaced by a system in which the politicians have full control. This would result in the politicization of our courts, a loss of their independence, and a reduction of their status to that of the government’s rubber stamp. Moreover, some politicians would like to curtail the powers of the High Court of Justice and constrain its ability to exercise judicial review of the executive branch.

The third course would be to curtail the authority of the legal advisers in the civil service, starting with the attorney general. This means that instead of the current situation, in which the legal advisers’ job is to ensure that executive agencies do not violate the law in the course of exercising their enormous powers, the advisers would function — in effect — as the government’s private attorneys, always looking for a way to legitimize their actions.

This is no imaginary dystopia, but rather a publicly declared action plan. It poses an equal threat to anyone and everyone who cherishes human rights, no matter where they stand on the political spectrum. Netanyahu, whose roots lie in classic liberalism, used to be opposed to such measures. Today, however, he sees them as his life-preserver. If the anti-constitutional revolution succeeds, Israel will be a very different country from the one we have always known. Human rights — your rights, dear reader — and the rights of minorities, will no longer be protected. They will depend exclusively on the will and whims of whatever coalition happens to be running the country — a coalition of politicians wielding untrammeled power.

In a country that lacks a full-fledged constitution and a bill of rights; a country, whose vision is the subject of fierce debate among its constituent “tribes”; a country whose leaders fuel hate speech — there must be strong and independent guardians to defend us against the abuse of the massive power we grant our legislature and executive branches.

Indeed, there is room for a review and reform of our judicial and law-enforcement systems, and there is nothing sacred or ideal about the current arrangement. But the remedy must be balanced and responsible, and not a revolution that would be followed — God forbid — by a flood. This is what we are voting about today.

The article was published in the Times of Israel.