Peres and Grunis oppose letting Knesset override Supreme Court

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By Rabbi Dow Marmur

Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM — What was supposed to be a routine ceremony in the official residence of the President of Israel turned out to be a spirited rebuttal in the current debate about the relationship between Israel’s Supreme Court and the Knesset.

It has been flamed by a new proposal by Minister of Justice Ya’akov Ne’eman – who isn’t a Member of Knesset but an appointed minister, as was his predecessor in the Olmert government – to introduce legislation that would allow the Knesset to reinstate laws that the Supreme Court has deemed unconstitutional. (Though Israel doesn’t have a formal constitution it has a number of basic laws that fulfill that function.)

Ne’eman’s proposal is that all that’ll be needed is 65 Knesset votes to overturn the Court’s decision. As every viable coalition is supported by at least 65 out of the Knesset’s 120 members, the Supreme Court could be rendered powerless by the politicians.

At the ceremony, both State President Peres and the President of the Supreme Court Grunis strongly criticized the proposal. The Times of Israel quoted Peres saying that “constitutional legislation demands broad national consent, and that the government must follow that cause… to ensure that the legal system is not beholden to politics.”

Grunis spoke in the same vein. He came out against Ne’eman – said to be known for his propensity for behind-the-scenes manipulations – for publishing the draft without prior consultation with the Supreme Court. (Those who only weeks ago had changed existing rules of appointment to make sure that Grunis would succeed Dorit Beinisch as president of the Court – probably because he was reputed to be conservative – must now be disappointed that he isn’t more pliable than were his two predecessors.)

If Ne’eman’s draft becomes law, a number of measures calculated to
*inhibit Arab members of the Knesset,
*stem funds from abroad to left-of-centre NGOs,
*make it more difficult for African refugees and those who help them,
*even an Israeli version of the French “burqa law,” *etc., etc. would come onto the books.

Steps would also be taken to change the way Supreme Court judges are appointed to make sure that, as in the US, it’s the government and not a non-partisan committee that makes the decisions.

Though even the legal advisor of the Knesset has counseled against such legislation, there’re those who argue that it would, in fact, strengthen the democratic nature of Israel. For, so the argument goes, it’s the country’s elected law makers, not an elitist group of judges that should decide what’s in the best interest ofIsrael.

The counter-argument is that whereas politicians have been prone to play fast-and-loose with the law to further their own agendas, the Supreme Court has kept Israel democratic, honest and protective of human rights for all.

Once again, then, it is right v. left: as the right-wing parties currently have the majority of seats in the Knesset, they want to get through their agenda. Because the Supreme Court is likely to inhibit them, those on the left are in support of the Court.

I’m told that there’re cogent arguments on both sides, but knowing what we know about the intentions of the reactionaries in the present government – and their intimidation of the potential moderates in their own ranks – there’s every reason to oppose Ne’eman and to side with Peres, Grunis and many other critics.

We’re bound to hear a lot more about it in the weeks and months to come.

*
Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple of Toronto.  Now dividing his time between Canada and Israel, he may be contacted at [email protected]

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