Monday, July 24, 2023

What is all this hullabaloo about the Israeli Legal Changes?

 Israel has just passed a law that makes major changes to their Supreme Court. The changes are seen (correctly in my view) as a distinct turn from Democracy and the rule of law.

A simple overview might make sense to an issue that is more complicated that the nightly news makes out. Does it effect America or Americans? In a way. The United States hands over $3,200,000,000.00 ( 3.2 Billion) to Israel every year. Israel is BY FAR the biggest foreign aid recipient from the United States - and our Congress has pledged constant, near unanimous support for them. So we now support and fund a government that does not believe in the rule of the law.

This is possible because Israel does not have a Constitution. Instead they have a set of "Basic Laws" - The Basic Law: Freedom from Occupation and Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty among the two strongest - both have echos of our Bill of Rights.

The Supreme Court of Israel, like the United Staes, has to ability to overturn laws that violate these and the other Basic Laws. The restrictions the court has placed occasionally run up against the religious beliefs of most orthodox people in the country. The Court tries to limit settlements in the West Bank and preserve some minor rights for Palestinians.  The court has also allowed the prosecution of Benjamin Netanyahu to move forward.

In the very tight and unresolved elections of 2021 and 2022 resulted in a new government in December of 2022. This government includes the most deeply conservative and Orthodox parties that believe Israel should occupy the West Bank, kick out Palestinians who live there or in East Jerusalem, and use religion to run the country (no transportation on the sabbath, no gay rights, women to use separate facilities for everything and Orthodox young men should not have to serve in the army - among other laws). 

The Supreme Court has hobbled most of these actions AND allowed the case against Netanyahu to proceed even as he is Prime Minister. And so the legislature proposed laws that would end the Supreme Court's place in government. The newly passed law means that the Supreme Court cannot overrule the legislature. And the legislature can override any Supreme Court ruling. 

Without a Constitution and with a powerless President, the legislature (the Knesset) is now the only final word in the country. In Israel a minority of voters can easily make or break a government. You only need 3.25% of the vote to get into the Knesset and very small parties can change outcomes. In this case, it is a very rabid Israel first group that entered the government to put the coalition over the top. Their need to overrule the Supreme Court meshes with Netanyahu's desire to defang the court in his trial.

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