Democracy in Israel - how worried should we be?


By Orlando Radice
November 30, 2011
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What to make of the so-called ‘anti-democratic’ laws being batted around in the Knesset? Is this the beginning of end of Israeli democracy, as many on the left would have it? Not all bills are as ruinous to political pluralism as they have been made out.

The ‘Grunis’ Bill, for example, which is designed to reduce the Supreme Court president’s minimum tenure and has been much derided for potentially allowing a right-leaning Judge, Justice Asher Dan Grunis, to preside over the court, will not change the identity of the entire court since even the president only has one vote and can be overruled, just like any other court member.

Moreover, Bibi, caught between a sustained legislative campaign from the right of the Knesset and negative feedback from the media and opinion polls, is trying to steer a middle way, promising to “soften” the laws before the are presented for their final votes in the Knesset.

On the other hand, we have laws such as the selection reform bill, which would require candidates for the Supreme Court to be appointed only after being vetted by a Knesset committee. Worried? Some of Israel’s foremost experts on constitutional law are. As Professor Barak Medina told the Jerusalem Post, “In Israel, there is a prevailing idea that the judiciary is apolitical, even though of course all judges are human and have political beliefs. But judges are not supposed to expose their political opinions, so the public can have confidence in court officials.”

If the Israeli public is about to lose confidence in its highest court, more nation-stopping protests look likely. Throw in a libel law that – if passed – would raise sixfold the amount of compensation a court can award a plaintiff without the need to prove damages, and another that could limit funding for left-wing NGOs, and we can look forward to we can look forward to a few more million-man marches.

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