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August 28, 2015 / 13 Elul, 5775
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A Glimpse Into The Mindset Of A Judicial Oligarch


The altar of democracy requires sacrifices. Of course, Barak likely does not ride buses, or shop in Machane Yehuda, or have any relatives in Sderot. Nor, strange as it sounds, did Barak even mention once that Israel is a Jewish state. Democracy uber alles.

Imagine if the ACLU actually governed the United States instead of just incessantly filing lawsuits; that is the picture of the legal system in Israel today. It is both naïve and dangerous.

I was reminded of George Orwell’s observation that “some ideas are so absurd only an intellectual could believe them.” But Judge Posner, who is as soft-spoken as he is brilliant and riveting, demolished Barak’s arguments point by point. Clearly from the American experience, he said, there is no slippery slope.

In every war (beginning with Lincoln’s suspension of habeus corpus during the Civil War), there were severe limitations on various civil rights, but when the war ended the measures were simply repealed and the status quo ante restored. Many of the restrictions imposed after the Arab Terror of 9/11 have already been relaxed (foolishly, Posner thought).

It is unthinkable in an American context that the Supreme Court should insert itself at will into the decisions of the political or military establishment, and micromanage government and security. Cases take years to get to the Supreme Court, so American judges already have real-life experience as to what works, what doesn’t work and what real harm is caused, if any.

Judicial tyranny is also incompatible with democracy, and judges are not omnipotent, Posner said. (Much of the audience cheered, and Barak squirmed.) He lambasted Barak’s assertion that Barak’s decisions are (as Barak had said) the “correct interpretation of law”, and said he – Posner – would never say that he is indisputably correct even when he is in the majority.

Posner added that he never uses terms like “justice, fairness, human rights,” deriding them as “empty words” that can be twisted by a judge to mean whatever he wants them to mean. And then there is no “rule of law,” but the subjective opinion of one person who is no more informed or expert in these nebulous matters than any other person.

Law is a “river of uncertainty” and it is perilous when judges create an “air of mystery” around their decisions, as if they are descending from some higher authority. He quipped that sometimes “with freedom comes irresponsibility.” But, he asserted, in America “we don’t want to fight a war with one hand tied behind our back.” American courts are not unfettered; Congress can limit their jurisdiction and budgets. And judges should never feel completely independent; “judicial independence is not a synonym for omnipotence or the rule of judges.”

Interesting, a Jew with seichel. Democracy is based on majority rule with protection for minority rights – but the minority does not have the right to infringe on the lives and well-being of the majority.

Barak was left to grimace, and then – in rebuttal – to remark how disappointed he was in Posner’s “extreme” views. He went on and on and on about the indispensability of unlimited judicial power as the only safeguard for democracy and human rights. “There is no justice without fairness, and there is no democracy without human rights,” he declared.

At that point, a gentleman in the third row asked: “What about the settlers from Gush Katif? Did they have human rights, or do human rights only flow in one direction, to Arabs?” The audience was thrust into silence and then a low murmur at this most peculiar turn of events – a pro-Jewish advocate at Hebrew University. (All right, I confess, the inquirer was me. I had more to say but held back so as not to be rude.)

Barak was flummoxed. He looked at me and could not respond except for mumbling some platitude about the right to free speech. He ended his talk abruptly and sat down. Posner, who was sort of beaming during my brief remarks, had the decency not to respond to Barak’s condescension to him, and the evening ended.

In an instant, the bubble of high-minded, self-righteous piety had been burst, and the emperor was shown to indeed have no clothes. In the world according to Barak, it is an outrageous and unacceptable affront to justice to demolish the homes of terrorists – murderers of Jews – but perfectly acceptable and moral to demolish the homes of 9,000 religious-nationalist Jews.

About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and author, most recently, of “Tzadka Mimeni: The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2014). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.


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