Saturday, June 27, 2009

Presence Of Justice - The Sequel

I noted back in March that Israel's High Court of Justice has been the only firewall Israel has against encroachments on civil liberties; that defenders of human rights have relied, in effect, on a self-perpetuating community of liberal-democratic jurists, enjoying (by means of law and precedent) the ability to remain self-perpetuating. (Former Justice Aharon Barak gave voice to the unique status of the court rather poignantly a couple of days ago, when he argued that Israel must be, after all, "a state of its citizens," code for the equality of Arab citizens--which caused a storm of criticism.)

Two votes in the Likud-controlled Knesset this past couple of weeks will almost certainly end this run of liberal-democratic jurists. Think of it as a quiet coup by the Judeans. The first is the appointment of Uri Ariel of the Kahanist National Union to the Judicial Appointments Committee. "As of today," writes Haaretz's Yossi Verter, "the committee has a bloc of four rightist and radical-right politicians, including Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. All they need is a fifth member, probably one of the Israel Bar Association's two representatives, and they will have a majority on the committee and be able to do as they please. The three Supreme Court justices on the panel will become a negligible minority."

The second vote is an amendment that will require a majority of seven out of nine members of the Judicial Appointments Committee. If the amendment becomes law, which it almost certainly will, the government will have, in effect, a veto over appointments to Israel’s highest court, "the most significant change," says the Israel Policy Center, "in the balance of power between the branches of Israel’s government since the current system of judicial appointments was put in place in 1953."