Message from President of IDI, Yohanan Plesner, Following the Repeal of the Standard of Unreasonableness

| Written By:

Dear Friends,

On Monday, the Knesset voted 64-0 to amend the Basic Law governing Israel’s judiciary and strip the Supreme Court of its power to block government decisions on the basis of the standard of “extreme unreasonableness.” The decision has potentially fateful consequences because of its immediate implications, its significance in the planned judicial overhaul, and the profound social, economic, and national security crisis it has precipitated.

I will not go into all of that here but wish to underscore the broader significance of what happened on Monday: an elected government just made a potentially far-reaching constitutional change on narrow partisan lines. Whatever one thinks of the amendment in question, a red line has been crossed. The citizens of Israel learned a painful lesson on the intolerable ease with which, in their surreal constitutional reality, a temporary political majority can change the rules of the game, alter the very foundations of the regime and, should it choose to do so, violate their most basic rights.

The fact that this executive power grab was carried out in the face of the largest and most sustained protests in the country’s history, against the will of a majority of the public, and notwithstanding severe warnings from security, law, and economic experts, has brought home the magnitude of the threat to millions of Israelis.

From now on, every time an Israeli citizen goes to the polls, they will do so with the frightening new awareness that the price of defeat could be their way of life. A religious man will place his ballot in fear that a secular-led government could unilaterally undermine the Jewish character of the State if it chose to do so. A secular woman will cast her ballot trembling at the ramifications of a right-wing victory for her rights. And what are we to tell our 1 million Arab citizens, whose rights are henceforth completely at the mercy of the Jewish majority? It should not have come to this. Elections must not become a winner-takes-all contest, in which the victor seizes everything and the loser risks losing everything. That is not democracy: it is a recipe for civil war.

For years, IDI was an organization ahead of its time, repeating to all who would listen that Israel’s constitutional anomaly was not sustainable. More than twenty years ago, my visionary predecessors—the credit goes mostly to Arye Carmon, George Shultz, Bernie Marcus, and Meir Shamgar — saw the glaring hole in Israel’s constitutional infrastructure for what it was: a ticking time bomb at the foundations of our regime. They set out on a historic quest to devise and pass a constitution by consensus for one of only three democracies in the world that doesn’t have one. Unfortunately, few understood the urgency at the time. But everyone is now wide awake. In the absence of adequate constitutional safeguards, Israel’s 75-year-old democracy is like a child on a bicycle, with the training wheels—and brakes—removed. The choice before us is simple: we can either fix the brakes or keep hurtling towards the cliff.

So, we stand with the vast majority of Israelis who are calling on our country's leadership to act as responsible stewards of the public trust by engaging in genuine dialogue aimed at reaching a constitutional consensus that protects the rights of all citizens. The people of Israel deserve the completion of our constitutional framework, as promised by our founding founders, in a manner that will entrench the values articulated in our Declaration of Independence and ensure that a crisis such as this will never happen again.

Admittedly, genuine constitutional reform seems like a lofty, distant, goal at this moment. But we don’t have the luxury of giving up, and no one is more poised to lead this effort than IDI. We are both the liberal champions of Israel’s democratic values, while simultaneously we are also the conservative defenders of its beleaguered institutions from populist attack. The old labels of left, center, and right simply do not apply to Israel’s new reality, and neither can the solutions to this crisis. This is why we are ready to ramp up our efforts and we will persevere in this fight as long as it takes.

In making this pledge, I take comfort from the incredible democratic awakening that has taken place over the last seven months, from the millions of Israelis who have stood up for their liberty. And I am encouraged by the many friends, especially in Israel and in the United States, who have chosen to support our efforts. I hope that we can continue to count on you in the difficult months and years ahead. We will need every ounce of support we can get.


Yohanan Plesner

PresidentThe Israel Democracy Institute