Israeli Judicial Reform Crisis Inches Closer to Boiling Point
Widespread protests in Israel have now stretched into a seventh month over a judicial reform effort initiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and observers are beginning to worry that the intensity of the divisions within Israeli society could be disastrous for the country.
On Monday, Israel’s parliament enacted the first of a series of laws endorsed by Netanyahu designed to revamp the country’s judicial system. Protestors claim that the planned reforms are pushing the country toward authoritarianism, but backers of the measures say that they are merely aimed at rebalancing the separation of powers in the Israeli government by reining in a Supreme Court that has become too powerful.
On Thursday, CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell joined “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” to discuss the planned reforms and the current situation in the Holy Land.
“[T]he law that was passed the other day is removing from the Supreme Court the ability to strike down a law, a policy, [or] a government action based on whether they see it as ‘unreasonable,’” he explained. “[T]his is probably the most politically active court in the world, according to some. And what they can do is if the legislature passes a law [or] if there’s a government policy, they can determine on their own opinion that it’s unreasonable and they can strike it down — that’s something that the Supreme Court here in Israel has usurped to itself a couple of decades ago.”
Mitchell went on to observe that the proposed reforms were once widely seen as needed, but have now become a pretext for wider opposition against Netanyahu from his political opponents.
“Simcha Rothman [is] one of the architects of these judicial reforms,” he noted. “He was telling us that many of the people right now on the political Left that are criticizing this legislation actually were advocating the very same thing just a few years ago. [Rothman argues] that the protests that are going on in the streets now … are not just against judicial reform, but [are] trying to undermine, demonize, delegitimize the Netanyahu government and bring it down.”
Mitchell, who is currently stationed in Jerusalem, related how “a lot of Israelis are concerned. They do feel like maybe the legislation will go too far the other way. … [But Netanyahu says] they want to rebalance the branches of government here and they don’t want to go too far the other way [and] give too much power to the legislature, but they really want to rein in some of this power that the Supreme Court has to give democracy a better chance here. Now, the protesters are saying this is the end of democracy and the beginning of a dictatorship. I don’t think that’s true at all.”
Mitchell further pointed out that “Israel does not have a constitution, so they don’t have a framework like the U.S. Supreme Court does. And so that’s what they’re trying to do in lieu of not having a constitution.”
Additionally, it appears that not all of the opposition to Netanyahu’s proposed reforms is organic. “[T]here’s one NGO [non-governmental organization] over here that gets [U.S.] State Department funds and they’re helping fund the protest. … [I]t’s not a direct [funding] but it is an indirect help to these protests.”
As to what will happen next, it appears that a deeper crisis is likely on the horizon. On Wednesday, reports surfaced that the Israeli Supreme Court will itself make a ruling on the proposed judicial reforms, which is likely to escalate an already highly combustible situation.
“[T]hat’s really going to be a showdown,” Mitchell contended. “… [I]n the meantime, there are other pieces of legislation that are down the line. And as Simcha Rothman was telling us, he wants to be able to negotiate with the opposition. He feels like they really haven’t been doing that right now.”
Nevertheless, Mitchell stressed the gravity of the situation on the ground in the Holy Land and the need for believers to pray for a resolution.
“[It’s a] very, very important time to be praying for Israel. There is really just a tearing at the threads of Israeli society here. Pray for wisdom for the leaders. Pray that there would be some negotiations and pray for reconciliation between Israelis. It’s a very divisive time over here.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.