Three former supreme court justices from Israel, the United States, and Canada—Dorit Beinisch (Israel), Stephen Breyer (US), and Rosalie Abella (Canada)— assembled at the 92nd Street Y in New York for a timely conversation on the complex legal and political drama unfolding in Israel.
The Israel Democracy Institute congratulates President Isaac Herzog on his extraordinary efforts. While the President’s plan contains some problematic elements, if it were to be adopted in its entirety as a package, we would support it because it safeguards our democracy and bolsters key elements of our constitutional foundations.
Since 1953, judicial appointments in Israel have been made through a Judicial Selection Committee in which legal professionals—judges and lawyers—are in the majority and politicians in the minority. The new Israeli government’s plans for legal reform turn this system on its head and allow the coalition to fully control appointments to all parts of the judiciary, thus consolidating its dominant position in all three branches of government.
Political discontent with the power relationship between the judiciary and the political branches has been percolating since the 1990s, often in connection with criminal proceedings against senior politicians. Prof. Amichai Cohen and Dr. Yuval Shany provide context for the ongoing debate concerning recent legal developments in Israel, so that outside observers can follow them more closely.
The debate surrounding the Override Clause should really focus on the disproportionate power of the Knesset and not on the power of the Supreme Court. All other democracies have structural mechanisms that limit the concentration of power in the hands of one institutions - we must create such a mechanism in Israel as well.
The four new Judicial Appointments Committee selections to the Supreme Court last month have led to the usual partisan responses, breaking down along the lines of “winners” and “losers.” Despondent claims of an “anti-constitutional revolution” are being made simultaneously with celebratory assertions of “making history.” The facts, however, are quite different.
Earlier this month, change snuck in through the back door of Israel's court system when Israel’s first ultra-Orthodox judge was appointed. This article was first published by the Jewish Press.