Myths and Facts about Israel’s Judicial Overhaul
MYTH: The present coalition is Israel’s democratically-elected government. The people voted for these reforms.
FACT: There is no such thing as a democratically-elected government in Israel. Don’t get me wrong, Israel is a democratic nation. But our elections do not work like they do in America, where you vote for a president and his platform. In Israel, you vote for a party. And then the leader of the party with the most votes must negotiate and horse trade in order to form a coalition of at least 51% of the Knesset seats. In this situation, he will have to compromise and make deals to get people to join. When he makes these compromises, he may end up doing things that he did not promise to do in order to build a government.
In the present situation, it is true that the prime minister wanted to see judicial reform (like many Israelis). But he did not run on a platform of completely neutering the Supreme Court. The measures that are being taken now we're not part of his platform. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that this government if the "voice of the people," because only just over 1/4 of the people voted for Likud/Netanyahu. This is why hundreds of thousands of Israelis are protesting on the streets.
MYTH: The law passed by the Knesset on Sunday, July 23rd will serve to strengthen Israel’s democracy, not weaken it.
FACT: Today on CNN, Prime Minister Netanyahu told Wolf Blitzer that the law that they passed on Sunday would strengthen Israel’s democracy not weaken it. The law he is referring to is where the Supreme Court can overrule a decision by the government that is deemed “unreasonable.” Prime Minister Netanyahu sought to make it seem that “reasonableness” was a weak, arbitrary standard, but in truth it is legal term that “finds its roots in various legal traditions and influences. Israel's legal system draws inspiration from Jewish law (Halakha), British common law, and legal principles adopted by other Western legal systems.”
Taking away this device of the Supreme Court (to declare certain government decisions unreasonable) will destabilize Israel’s democratic nature because. “Canceling that standard would remove the only tool for reviewing arbitrary and highly unreasonable decisions by the government.” There is no other check on the government’s decisions, since the executive and legislature are one.
Had the Prime Minister and his coalition said that they needed to better define the "reasonable standard," that would have strengthened democracy. Getting rid of it weakens Israel’s standing as a democratic country.
BREAKING JULY 28th: Likud leaders are now demanding and end to the unilateral judicial reforms. “Netanyahu understands that too,” said the a Likud official. “All of the prime minister’s allies understand today that the reform had caused tremendous damage.”
"Members of Netanyahu’s own party also called to 'disengage from Ben Gvir (National Security Minister, who has been "convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization in 2008" and all extreme elements of the coalition that are only harming the Likud,' the report added." —All Israel News
MORE BREAKING NEWS JULY 29th: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of LIKUD is desperately trying to put together an alternate government with Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, so they can throw out the religious zionist extremists (Smotrich, Ben Gvir, Rothman and others and restore sanity to the Knesset). From The Times of Israel,
"Gallant has concluded that Lapid and Gantz must urgently be brought into the fold, while National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — contentious figures in the cabinet who lead the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties, respectively — should be booted from the coalition, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday, without citing sources."
Likud leaders are realizing that the Sunday passage of the anti-supreme court law has had huge negative repercussions nationwide in internationally.
MYTH: The protesters don’t represent the nation. Most people back the judicial reforms.
FACT: 66% of Israelis are against the reforms. 47% of the members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party are against the reforms. 70% want the ruling coalition (Netanyahu) and the opposition leaders (Lapid, Gantz) to meet together to decide on a way forward for judicial reform.
When 5% (500,000 people) of the entire nation go out on a Saturday night to protest, it is clear that the majority of a nation is concerned. Imagine nearly 17,000,000 Americans gathering to protest! I don’t believe that has ever happened, but that is what we are talking about.
MYTH: Israel will still have checks and balances between the legislative and the executive branch.
FACT: In Israel, the executive branch and the legislative branch are one in the same. The prime minister (executive) is the head of the coalition which is made-up of at least 51% of the Knesset (legislature). By definition, the opposition (Knesset members not in the coalition) is less than 50%, and therefore has no legal authority to be a check or balance against the coalition. They can make noise, but that is about it.
There are no checks or balances between the prime minister and the coalition since prime minister is the leader of the coalition. Without an independent Supreme Court, the coalition will be able to pass any law they want to regardless of how it affects human rights. Technically, they could even pass a law that says there will be no more elections and there would be nothing the Supreme Court could do about it, if they continue on this path. (I am not saying they would do that—and hope they would not—I am saying they would have that power.)
MYTH: The law passed against the “Reasonableness Standard” is like a constitutional amendment, adding to Israel’s Basic Law.
FACT: Prime Minister Netanyahu told Wolf Blitzer that removing the “Reasonableness Standard” is like a constitutional amendment in the US. It is true that the law the coalition passed on Sunday adds to Israel’s Basic Laws (Israel’s quasi-constitution), but it passed with a simple 51% majority in the Knesset. The reason that the American Supreme Court would never overturn a constitutional amendment is because the bar is set very high to prevent arbitrary changes to the constitution. “An amendment may be proposed by a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress, or, if two-thirds of the States request one, by a convention called for that purpose. The amendment must then be ratified by three-fourths of the State legislatures, or three-fourths of conventions called in each State for ratification.” There’s a reason it has only happened 27 times in America’s 250-year history. It typically takes several years for a constitutional amendment to pass. The present coalition did this in roughly six months.
In Israel, a Basic Law may be added by a simple majority of 51%. Another reason why we need a strong Supreme Court.
WHAT IS ISRAEL BASIC LAW?
Israel does not have a constitution. This is a handicap that if overcome would solve the situation. The problem is that when the Supreme Court overturns a law in Israel, they use the Basic Law. Israel’s Basic Law is a set of laws based primarily on human rights, the make-up of the government, the judiciary, etc. Read them all here. These basic laws could one day be our constitution together with the Declaration of Independence.
The Supreme Court has never turned over one of the Basic Laws. But the law that was passed on Sunday is being added to the Basic Law. And the coalition recently passed a law releasing Netanyahu from his conflict of interest agreement—and they added that to the Basic Laws. Today, the attorney general asked the Supreme Court to overturn it. If they do, it will be the first time that the Supreme Court overturned a Basic Law. We may be heading to a constitutional crisis.
Myth: Concerns over Israel’s economy are exaggerated.
Fact: The concerns are very real. Today Moody’s wrote, “We anticipate negative consequences for Israel's economy and security.” There are reports that Moody’s leadership were personally angry at the prime minister, because he promised them that he would not go in the direction he has gone.
"Ex-Bank of Israel head warns investors lining up to pull funds amid overhaul turmoil
Jacob Frenkel predicts economic ‘catastrophe’ if further judicial legislation advances without consensus,." He also claims that Netanyahu has lost credibility with Moody's over misleading them on judicial overhaul.
The shekel is at its weakest place in many years, closing yesterday at 3.715 to the dollar, jumping from 3.619 on the 23rd.
“Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s benchmark TA-125 index dropped 2.3% and the TA-35 index of blue-chip companies fell 2.2%, while the TA-90 index was down 2.8% at the market close in Tel Aviv. The TA index of the five largest banks slumped 3.9% and the TA-Insurance & Financial Services declined 3.1%.”
“Even more startling, almost 70% of Israeli investors said their portfolio companies intended to relocate their headquarters in the future and register in another country… over 20% of companies are planning to relocate their employees away from Israel.” And 70% of Israeli startups have acted to shift funds or relocate due to the judicial overhaul. This is no joke!
Today the S&P credit rating agency warned that the lack of judicial overhaul consensus between the opposition in the coalition is threatening Israel’s economy.
MYTH: The protests are just from the far left.
FACT: Israel is a center-right country. In the present Knesset, less than 4% of the seats belong to a left-wing party (the Labor party has 4 seats, which is only 3.75%). The entire representation of the Israeli left wing is four seats out of 120!!!
There are 51 seats in the right.
There are 12 seats in the center-right.
There are 24 seats in the center.
There are 18 seats in the religious—who tend to caucus with the right.
And just 4 on the left!
So when 500,000 people protest, which represents at least 5 million (half the country), it is impossible to say that they are merely far-left protesters.
The most patriotic Israelis are in the Air Force. Air Force pilots are willing to die for the country. “…more than 1,100 Israeli Air Force reserve officers – including 235 fighter pilots, 98 transport pilots, 89 helicopter pilots, 91 pilots serving in the flight school and 165 elite Air Force commandos – issued their letter threatening to suspend their reserve duty if the government moved forward to overhaul the country’s judiciary.” Air Force pilots are not part of the left wing of Israel! In addition, 10,000 army reservists are vowing not to report for duty.
A good friend of mine is a former colonel in the reserves. He is a lifelong member of the Israeli right-wing. His father was a well-respected general. And he is at every protest. The protesters come from the left, the right, the center, religious, secular. If you just listen to talking heads in America, you will hear about the “leftists” protestors. I live in Israel; the protests would regularly go by my apartment in Tel Aviv. I have seen religious protestors as well as those with the rainbow flag. They come from all sectors of Israeli society. Calling them all leftists is merely propaganda and a talking point. But it is not reality.
Several top nuclear scientists are considering resigning and “Thousands of Israeli doctors walked off their jobs.” These are very intelligent people who typically do not take sides in politics. Because this threatens the very democratic fabric of Israel, they are taking drastic measures.
MYTH: The Messianic movement is standing with the coalition.
FACT: I can't speak for the entire Messianic movement, but I can tell you that virtually every leader that I am close to is deeply alarmed by the recklessness of this judicial overhaul. Read this article from Pastor Guy Cohen from Akko, Israel. I have only met one Israeli Messianic leader who is even moderately taking the coalition's position. (I am sure there are more, but the ones I know or against the reforms.)
MYTH: Netanyahu is a strong leader, with “both hands on the wheel.”
Fact: “‘I have both hands on the wheel,’ Netanyahu has insisted to every American interviewer who would speak to him over the past four months.” But in truth, Netanyahu has never been weaker. The fact that he had a pacemaker put in his heart, and left the hospital straight for the Knesset on Sunday, is a metaphor of how weak he currently is as a politician.
I am not saying the prime minister is a weak person. I'm saying that his present position within his own coalition is very weak. To build a coalition, he had to make concessions and compromises with some unsavory characters.
The people steering the wheel are Justice Minister Yariv Levine (Likud), Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) and National Security Minister Itamar Ben G’vir (Jewish Power). Smotrich was caught in 2005 with 700 liters of gasoline that he allegedly intended to use to blow up automobiles in a protest. Ben G’vir “was convicted in 2007 of supporting a terror organization and inciting racism,” and barred from serving in the Israeli Defense Forces—now he oversees Israel’s police force!
According to reports, when Netanyahu arrived at the Knesset on Sunday straight from the hospital, he was hoping to come up with a compromise that everyone could agree to. But the extreme members of his party, mentioned above, would have none of it and refused to bend. Netanyahu's own difference minister,Yoav Gallant, was begging him to embrace a compromise, but he is too fearful of losing the support of his extreme members. According to lip-readers Gallant said to Bibi, “Give them something, it doesn’t matter what. Give them something to show them that you’re a democrat, and I’ll go and try to talk to them." In the end, he gave nothing.
The once great Benjamin Netanyahu is now at the mercy of his extreme coalition partners. Of course, he could simply do the right thing and stand up to them, but then the coalition would fall and he would lose his prime minister-ship. And the reason why he can’t afford that, is below.
MYTH: Right-Wing American Pundits like Ben Shapiro and Mark Levin have deeply studied this issue.
Fact: Ben Shapiro and Mark Levin are very smart people. But they don’t live in Israel, and they are getting their information/talking points from one side and then presenting themselves as experts on the issue. As smart as they are, there are 10,000 Israelis who could give a more educated assessment of the situation then they could. I have heard their comments and all they are doing is repeating talking points from the coalition in Israel. (I would be very happy to discuss/debate the issue with either of them).
MYTH: Netanyahu believes strongly in these reforms.
FACT: In 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech declared that Israel needs an independent judiciary. The clip, that has gone viral, “shows Netanyahu hailing an independent court system as one of the foundations of democracy…” he even goes so far as to say that countries without a strong and independent judiciary tend to be dictatorships.
“I believe that a strong, independent court allows for the existence of all other institutions in a democracy. I ask that you show me one dictatorship, one undemocratic society, where a strong independent court system exists. There’s no such thing,” Netanyahu said.
So one can only assume that by dismantling the authority of the Supreme Court, his vision for a future Israel is something like a dictatorship.
MYTH: Netanyahu is a honest broker on this issue.
FACT: As we speak, Benjamin Netanyahu is standing trial for three counts of corruption. He has a massive conflict of interest. In 2020, he signed a “conflict of interests agreement …which was authorized by the [Supreme Court], in order to allow him to continue serving as prime minister.”
“The conflict of interest agreement, signed in 2020, states that Netanyahu has conflicts of interest concerning appointments in the law enforcement system, given his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. This means Netanyahu is barred from making judicial appointments, or getting involved in legislative matters that may impact his ongoing trial.”
The reason he cannot stand up to the fringe element of his coalition is because if he loses power, he may go to jail. Once the Supreme Court is declawed, his coalition partners can pass a law pardoning him or at least saying that a sitting prime minister cannot be on trial—and the Supreme Court could do nothing. He needs these extremists to assure that he will not go to jail.
What is the “reasonableness law”?
The so-called “reasonableness law” that was passed on Sunday July 23, removes the Supreme Court's authority to block government decisions by pronouncing them “severely unreasonable.” For instance, the most recent time this was used was in the case of Aryeh Deri, the leader of the Shas party.
He was tasked to serve in this present coalition as both Interior Minister and Health Minister and alternate Prime Minister. There is only one problem—he is a criminal. Deri spent several years in prison for bribery twenty years ago. Recently, he was convicted of tax offenses. He signed a plea deal in which he would resign from the Knesset and gave the impression he would quit politics. But he ran in the next election and was rewarded with key positions. The Supreme Court ruled “10-1 that Deri’s appointment to the cabinet is both unreasonable due to past offenses and invalid due to false impression given in 2022 plea bargain that he’d quit politics.”
If this happened today, after the July 23 vote—we would have a criminal as alternate prime minister as well as our interior and health minister. (Note: In the most recent affair, “He had also been suspected of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust over the alleged diversion of hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, but those charges were dropped.)
MYTH: This will quickly blow over.
FACT: According to reports, nearly 30% of Israelis are looking to relocate. “A whopping 54% of Israelis reportedly believe the judicial reform is undermining the Jewish state’s security.” And 56% see the potential for civil war. This is no joke. The medical community called for a one-day strike this week. Last night (7/26) 3,000 doctors met together to discuss “relocation,” as in leaving the State of Israel to practice medicine elsewhere.
Doctors in Israel do not make a lot of money compared to the US and by staying in Israel they are being patriots. But now they are considering leaving because the nature of our democracy could be changing. They do not want to be part of a religious state—a Jewish Iran. Understand, these are just 3,000 doctors that were already part of an online group. There may be thousands of others considering the same thing. If such a thing took place it would throw our medical system into chaos. Once again, if this was no big deal, something that the majority was for, the response would not be this severe. In the history of Israel there has never been a public backlash like this.
Israel needs a strong Supreme Court (Netanyahu has agreed in the past). Our Supreme Court is the only check on the power of the coalition, since the executive and legislative branches are always controlled by the same governing coalition.
MYTH: Supreme Court justices choose their replacements.
FACT: This is a fallacy that has been swirling around. The idea is that there are a bunch of left-wing judges that just choose each other. In truth, the way a Supreme Court justice is chosen is through a committee of nine people. Three of them are current Supreme Court justices. Two come from the Israeli Bar Association. The other four are politicians, two from the Knesset at large and two from the cabinet of the ruling coalition.
This is something that most Israelis do want to reform. They would like to see the weight of balance more on the side of politicians, than judges. This could be done easily by adding two more Knesset members, in which they would be in the majority.
Now is the time to pray for Israel!