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."


Y. Ben-David said...

Terrifying thing it is, democracy, isn't it Dr Avishai? Terrible that the people of the country should actually have a say in who their Supreme Court Justices are, like in the United States, where the publicly elected President nominates the Justices, and the publicly elected Senate confirms.
I know it is hard for your elite to accept it, but they have no heavenly mandate to rule Israel for ever.

Potter said...

Isn’t the process of appointing the judiciary dependent in the first instance on (what seems) a flawed ( or less democratic) process of producing leaders in the first place?

I don’t think you can compare to our system here in the US for choosing Justices without also comparing our method of electing the leaders who choose them.

It’s unfortunate that what seems like a more democratic process to arrive at supreme court justices in Israel is not really that, but rather a way for some to maintain power and push their agenda in a system that already produces an imbalance, that is skewed a certain way because of that.

from Verter's in Haaretz: "But Netanyahu preferred to give the seat to a radical right-wing party that will make his life hell the minute he supports a Palestinian state - not to mention what it will do when he gives the order to dismantle populated outposts."

This must be intended. More "stumbling block". Netanyau apparently is not interested in "clearing a path" (as per your previous post).

Potter said...

Y. Ben-David: You don't have a "publicly elected" president. If you did perhaps Livni would preside and things might look a little different now.

For that matter in 2000 we in the US has less of one as well as the normal more democratic process was interrupted. Normally the President is not directly elected here either ( because of our electoral college) but more directly perhaps than in Israel. As a result we have two more conservative justices, one a chief justice, both for life, as the Senate, evenly divided lately, usually gives in to the President's choice.

I understand ( maybe I am wrong), is that the Israeli justices can only serve until 70 years old or less ( not for life). That may bring more political appointments.

Also I wonder if Supreme Court rulings in Israel have much effect- whether the Prime minister must or in fact does carry out court rulings. If the Prime Minister is bound to those rulings then you have a real "check and balance" in government. If the Judiciary is merely the servant of the ruling party or parties- you are on your way to a tyranny of sorts.

Y. Ben-David said...

Dr Avishai is not the first person to be concerned about unqualified people voting irresponsibly in ways that could hurt society. An earlier example was in the post-Civil War South of the United States. Recently freed slaves also were given the vote and the whites there had exactly the same concerns as Dr Avishai. Thus, they came up with literacy tests and poll taxes to make sure the "unqualified" didn't vote. Dr Avishai should get his friends in the MERETZ and HADASH parties to propose similar measures here in Israel.

Potter said...

In our society the concern is in promoting equality in education. I mean educating a citizen- which means educating to understand beyond the personal, to favor of what is good for of the whole of society. It's a batter against "special interests" or religious interests.

The US is a work in progress, as is Israel. If the right change can't come within, you see eventually it comes from outside pressure.

In Israel you have a very motivated very religious minority with disproportionate influence and whose allegiance is to "higher authority", not, I am afraid, the survival of Israel in the real world. Also you have an immigrant population,too many coming out of repressed societies, who tend to believe in the necessity of the use of force and who have suffered trauma. So a wiser calmer force is needed to balance especially against those in the very vocal threatening minority willing to violently break the law for what they believe in. The government, built on fragile coalitions, is thus held hostage.

Today the MOST that Barak can offer is a freeze for a short period of time on new starts in the settlements. This is not good enough at this stage. Yet you must know why this is so.

Today, here in the US, the name of the game is informing the public, dialogue, and involving people-the complacent, the cynical, the apathetic, getting them to vote to make change. This is the name of the game in Israel too, or should be-but is the system also working against this? Have people given up hope because not only of failed peace plans, but also because they feel held hostage? If so then they would have been looking to their Supreme Court for a breath of fresh air and hope. If they lose guys are in trouble.

There is little time for these imbalances in the Israeli system to straighten out before the choices narrow even further causing many who want coexistence to leave, leaving a volatile situation expressed in religious war/s.
I notice we have a system that produces new blood every now and then. And we are not being held hostage completely to special interests though they exert a drag.

Why do you have the same tired old cowardly leaders?

Duncan Cookson said...

I was wondering if the Israeli and Iranian elections had been in a year whether they might have produced more liberal results. If you look at Ahmadinejad and the election of Hamas as a reaction to Bush and his wars of aggression, and the success of the right in Israel as a reaction to that, it's possible that a year or two of a more conciliatory US president might have had its own effect. Watching Mr Avishai's talk the term 'Jewish Pakistan' really sent a shiver down my spine....

Potter said...

I meant to write above that

"....educating a citizen- which means educating to understand issues beyond the personal, to favor what is good for the whole of society. It's a battle against "special interests" (economic, religious, ideological) "

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