Speaking at the Freedom Rally in front of Israel’s Supreme Court Thursday night, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said: “I would like to tell the person sitting in the chamber right here behind us, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, even if you think that our corrections to the judicial system are wrong and should be done differently, to invalidate a basic law is a deviation from your authority that will harm Israeli democracy. I urge you not to make a decision that will tear apart the nation of Israel, tear apart families within Israeli society, and tear apart the IDF. The responsibility is yours.”
(Depending on where you get your numbers) more than fifty thousand protesters from the national camp demonstrated Thursday night against the possibility of the Supreme Court rejecting basic laws––in preparation for the hearings that will be held next week on an amendment to the Basic Law: The Judiciary restricting the Reasonability Clause, and another amendment limiting the incapacity of a serving prime minister to health causes.
The rally was organized by Tekuma 2023 and other right-wing organizations, and attended by some ministers, MKs, academics, physicians, and other public figures. But truth be told, the only Knesset faction that was fully represented was Smotrich’s Religious Zionism. From the Likud Party, only Information Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan showed up, together with three Likud MKs, while Otzma Yehudit stayed home, as did the Haredi factions.
Likud MK Avichay Buaron, who is one of the leaders of Tekuma 2023, told the demonstrators: “We are the sovereign, we are the people. We all stand behind Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and say to the court: The Knesset will not accept its subjugation obediently. If the court rejects the basic laws, it would be responsible and guilty for the anarchy that follows. From here we call on the Supreme Court, don’t take us into chaos, don’t harm the unity of Israel, don’t trample the majority in Israel.”
As far as the Likud is concerned, while the court’s meddling with the Reasonability amendment to a basic law constitutes an ominous departure from 75 years of tradition, the truly destructive move by the court is hearing the petitions against the change to the law administering the incapacity of a PM. There, the Likud argues, the court could pave the way to undoing the votes of millions of Israelis by an unelected branch of government.
The coalition is packing two effective weapons against an unprecedented power grab by the court. It has passed through committee two bills which have been approved by the Knesset plenum in first readings: 1. a bill banning the court from dealing with basic laws, which former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak defined as Israel’s constitution; and, 2. A bill changing the makeup of the committee to elect judges, setting an advantage to the coalition.
These two weapons are part of what Knesset Speaker Ohana was hinting at when he declared that the legislative branch would not be subjugated obediently to the judicial branch. Ohana asked the judges: “Recognize the limitations of your own power, not only those of the other branches. Recognize that in a democracy no branch of government is omnipotent.”
Remember the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times?” Well, folks, take out your chopsticks.