Israel’s right may have to compromise, but the left may have to calm down, the Wall Street Journal editorial board said on Monday (Israel Needs Judicial Reform—but How?).
“Opposition to Israeli judicial reform has reached the ‘resistance’ stage,” the WSJ editorial points out. “That’s when media say democracy is dying, officials refuse to remain impartial, activists block key roads, barricade think tanks and harass politicians’ families, and investors muse about pulling capital. Air Force pilots are even shirking reserve duty. This is bad for the country, but it’s good opposition politics: Sow chaos, then shout, ‘Look how chaotic Israel has become.’”
Couldn’t say it any better myself, and I live here.
The editorial goes on to suggest the reforms are mostly sensible: the government should be free to argue its own legal positions (and not through a frequently hostile legal counselor it did not choose); the court’s “reasonableness” standard has been unreasonable; the government is right to remove the court’s power over the selection of new justices––which has been abused by the judges.
The WJC is painfully aware of the unlimited right of standing practiced by Israel’s High Court, which hands the court enormous powers to intervene directly in every facet of Israel’s life, saying the solution is “restoring the standard restrictions on which cases the court will hear, and then let the court rule within its areas of competency.”
By going back to the norm all over the democratic world regarding who gets to be heard by the Supreme Court, “Israel would be made more democratic, not less, and the judicial safeguards would remain. The Israeli system might even become more functional, for a change. Today there is no limit on cases that Israel’s high court can hear, in contrast to the US, where a litigant must have a concrete injury to have standing to sue.”
In Israel, you don’t have to show how a government action or a Knesset law is harming you directly. It’s enough that you don’t like them and have the money to pay court fees.
The WSJ understands that the opposition in Israel has no incentive to compromise, which is why they rebuff any attempt to communicate coming from the coalition. The left “sees Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing on a ledge and has no desire to let him off lightly,” which is why it recommends that “the coalition will have to moderate its own proposal and settle for partial victory, even though the true believers won’t like it.”
On this point, the most respected conservative newspaper in the world is sadly mistaken. The left’s refusal to accept the right’s electoral victory as the basis for right-leaning legislation did not start two months ago when Justice Minister Yariv Levin introduced his judicial reform. That refusal to accept political reality goes back to 1977, when Likud, headed by Menachem Begin, unseated the Labor party after 29 years of uninterrupted rule. The entire Justice Aharon Barak assault on Israel’s electoral democracy came as a response to the fact that 1977 didn’t mark only a temporary political change, but a demographic avalanche that would only get bigger and fiercer.
Should the right-wing coalition tame its own legislation, it would lose the trust of its own 2.5 million voters who elected this government specifically to carry out the task of leveling the playing field and cutting the Supreme Court down to a size equal to the other two branches of government.
There’s no upside to moderating the legislation, only a downsize. The way to defeat the left and disabuse its leaders and members of the delusion that through mob thuggery they can retake the country. The government must crush the left – not out on the streets, where they have been disrupting civil society for 70 days, but through the law.
One last note: the WSJ editorial argues, rightfully so, that “most Israelis now accept that the judiciary needs reform—a major achievement by the right – but the Netanyahu government hasn’t convinced Israelis that its reform plan is the right one.”
You see, the nice and very educated editors of the WSJ live in a country where there are major media alternatives to the leftist cacophony. Those barely exist in Israel. Virtually all the major newspapers (except Israel Hayom, which most Israelis view as a pro-Bibi propaganda rag), and the three big TV news channels, have been drenching their readers and viewers with unrestricted anti-reform messages, often without bothering to include a token right-winger in their panels. Chanel 13, which has been voracious in its support for Yair Lapid against Netanyahu, let go of its two highest ratings-getters to disconnect viewers from their more right-leaning positions. The only place for Netanyahu et al to deliver their message is on social networks. But in Israel, the tribes still sit down in front of the set for their daily dose of news, and those belong to the opposition – including supportive coverage of criminal behavior on the part of leftist rioters, and constant attacks on Netanyahu’s two right-wing allies, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
In short, all the big megaphones in this dispute belong to the other side. And this is why the government can’t afford to compromise – especially since there’s no one on the other side willing to compromise.
This time, they should be crushed, so that the trend of disappearing leftist parties will continue. It’s been 46 years since the right has won – time for the right to rule.