From Israel: “A Very Cloudy Crystal Ball!!”

On Friday night Rosh Hashana begins: We are entering a time for prayer and contemplation.   A time for spiritual awakening, as the shofar arouses us.

Credit: Lion of Judah YouTube

We have been in a troubling state of high-tension overdrive for too long.  Perhaps this season can bring us at least a modicum of national serenity.  Oh, for some serenity!

It is a tall order: There are so many factors constantly at play – so many cross-purposes at work – that it is very difficult to anticipate how various situations are likely to resolve.   

We must embrace our season of prayer and contemplation with a full heart and serious intent.  We are facing some major issues.  May they be resolved in a manner that can raise us up closer to what we are meant to be as a people.


The issue of judicial reform, with the possibility of a constitutional crisis, looms large right now.  We are dealing with what might best be described as an enormous mess.

[] On June 24, the Knesset passed a law that severely restricted the application of “reasonableness” as a standard that could be utilized by the High Court in nullifying decisions made by the cabinet, ministers and certain elected officials.  “Reasonableness” is a subjective standard that relies upon the judgment of a justice and not on legal premises.  

It passed as a Basic Law, which is at the heart of the matter.

In no time, organizations opposed to this legislation moved to begin the process of challenging it.

[] Shortly thereafter, the Knesset went into summer recess.  The coalition indicated that the only additional legislation on judicial reform anticipated when the Knesset came back into session in the fall was with regard to the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee.  As the situation stands, the Court dominates the committee: justices sitting on the committee, who are predominantly on the left and were not elected by the people, select their equally left-leaning cronies to join the Court when there  are vacancies.  

It is the coalition’s goal to put selection in the hands of the Knesset, which is elected by the people, via adjustments in the makeup of the committee.  This is particularly pertinent now as there are (left-wing) justices who will soon retire: notably Chief Justice Ester Hayut, in October and Deputy President Uzi Vogelman, in a year.

By law, the Minister of Justice, who is Yariv Levin (Likud), convenes the Committee.  He has declined to do so until a new committee is in place.  There are calls to force him to do so, but at this point he is holding out.

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Other legislation on judicial reform was reportedly tabled for a period of time to cool matters down.      


[] At the beginning of September, rumors began surfacing that the coalition and the opposition were again meeting at the home of President Herzog and were considering a compromise put forth by the president.  Sources close to the prime minister indicated this was going nowhere:

“Journalists are sitting and discussing an egg which wasn’t laid and a plan which doesn’t exist…

“There is no plan, and there is no agreement…”


Very frankly, I would have been shocked if there had been an agreement, for the opposition is not interested in reaching a compromise that keeps the coalition going.  Quite the contrary.  Which is precisely why this is a mess.

One of the rumored reports had Netanyahu proposing to table all further judicial reform legislation for two years, in order to allow time for focusing on other critical matters – with the clear specification that the delay would only be temporary.  I understood his desire to do this  The issue of judicial reform is sucking up too much of the oxygen in the political sphere.  We need to be thinking about Iran, and Saudi Arabia and the PLO.

However, I also understood that the opposition would crow that this was a major victory.  They would not cooperate in dealing with other critical issues; feeling emboldened, they would continue to find ways to weaken the government.  They might even continue the protests under a different anti-government banner.


On September 5, Netanyahu released a plea to opposition leader Benny Gantz (chair, National Unity Party) to engage in face-to-face talks.

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Gantz, however, made his own statement, dismissing Netanyahu’s plea as “spin.”

Netanyahu needs to disperse the government and disperse the Knesset, and the State of Israel needs to go to elections that will allow the healing of Israeli society.”  (Emphasis added)

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And there you have it: the opposition is working towards new elections, not towards improving the judicial reform.  This is simply the latest confirmation of what we have been seeing all along.

Other prominent members of the opposition have issued similar statements. Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, for example, recently wrote on social media that compromise with the coalition would be surrender and constitute collaboration with a “racist dictatorship.”

A “racist dictatorship.” This sort of vilification of the Netanyahu government is both very ugly and very sad.  There was a time when I thought better of Ya’alon.


[] Tomorrow, Tuesday, the High Court will begin to hear arguments for eight petitions submitted by NGOs—perhaps most notably, the very left-wing Movement for Quality Government—calling for the cancellation of the reasonableness legislation.  Tensions are running very high.

It will be the first time, ever, that the full Court of 15 justices will sit.

MK Simcha Rothman (RZ), chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, sought last week to disqualify Hayut from participating in this critical hearing because of a speech she gave in January that sharply criticized the coalition’s judicial reform program.

“Anyone who reads the speech in its entirety will come to the clear conclusion that the opinion of the honorable Supreme Court president, Esther Hayut, is completely ‘locked in,’” Rothman said. His petition was rejected by Justice Vogelman.  No surprise.


On Saturday night (motzei Shabbat), for the 36th week in a row, there were opposition demonstrations in a number of locales.  My readers should be aware that these demonstrations are – by design, I am certain – irritating to many.  They block traffic, harass, bang drums and blow horns.  

One particular demonstration in Tel Aviv made news because of the huge sign that was on display:

Credit: Gilad Firset

In Hebrew it says, “The Court is Supreme.” This is how Yair Levin responded:

“The protesters revealed tonight with one sign their true goal – a court that is supreme over everything. Supreme over the government and can cancel any of its decisions or appointments, supreme over the Knesset and can cancel any law and now even discusses the cancellation of basic laws

“And in addition to all this, a court whose judges control the procedures for appointing judges, and appoint their associates in a friend-brings-friend manner, in secret chambers, and without a protocol. That is what they are striving for. To create a situation where fifteen people who chose themselves will be above the government, above the Knesset, above the people, and above the law. The absolute rule of the judge. Without this thing called ‘the will of the people.’ Without democracy.” (Emphasis added)



Last week, on Thursday, there was a right-wing demonstration in support of judicial reform, held outside the Supreme Court.  An estimated 200,000 attended and the message was “Don’t Trample on Our Vote!

Credit: Marc Israel Sellem


THE big issue that looms over the Court ruling on the reasonableness law is that it was passed as an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary. Basic law has a quasi-constitutional status in Israel, as there is no constitution.  The Court has never touched a basic law and previously delivered rulings indicating that it should not do so. Now, all of a sudden, as it suits the Court, it may be prepared to do so. (As you may have noticed, the Court tends to do as it pleases.)

Don’t you dare invalidate a fundamental law, the responsibility is on you,” warned Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (chair, RZ) at the rally Thursday night, addressing Chief Justice Hayut.

It was Knesset Speaker Omir Ohana (Likud) who drew the most attention with his statement on this situation made in the Knesset last Wednesday.  He later said this was not intended as a threat, but as an assessment of the situation.

From his statement:

“The one line that hasn’t been crossed yet is the overturning of the Basic Laws by the Supreme Court – and this is likely, God forbid, to take place as well. Tonight I’m asking for a stop sign….

The Knesset will not be trampled without a fight.  As Speaker of the Knesset, I highly advise the Supreme Court to take stock of its limitations.  In a democratic system, no single authority has the power to do everything. The Knesset has realized this, now it’s your turn.” (Emphasis added)


 Credit: Yoav Dudkevitch

Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted Ohana’s entire statement.  Minister Levin called it brave.  I have long admired him as a staunch Zionist.


There is no certainty, of course, as to how the Court will rule or what will follow.  Tomorrow the petitioners will begin to make their various cases.

To the best of my knowledge, there are only three members of the government who have said they will accept the Court’s decision: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (Likud), Health and Interior Minister Moshe Arbel (Shas) and Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel.  If the Court decides to rule on a Basic Law, an unprecedented crisis will very likely follow.

Some are predicting that the Court might kick the can down the road: declining to over-turn the reasonableness law now, but at the same time maintaining for the record that they have the right to rule on a Basic Law, should it be necessary to do so later.  (This reasoning is being advanced at least in part because the Court is not dependent upon the reasonableness doctrine to over-turn laws, there are other means at their disposal for doing so.)


When the ruling will be made is yet another unknown. There are some predicting that this will happen within the next month, during the holiday session when people are distracted by other matters and less likely to be focused on this, less likely to go out for demonstrations, etc. Sukkot, in particular, coming in two-and-half weeks, is a time when families often do recreational activities.

All speculation, we do not know.


There are a host of other serious matters lacking clear resolution that we must look at.  I will, of course, be returning to these in short order.


I want to close here by noting the date: 9/11.  The horrendous terror attack on the Twin Towers by al-Qaeda that brought death to 3,000 people should not be forgotten.  Sadly, I do not believe the US and the Western world at large have even remotely come to terms with its full implications.

In an instant, the events of 9/11 reshaped the world’s geopolitical landscape, prompting profound changes on both a global and deeply personal scale.” (Emphasis in original)


“…the world watched in collective shock and disbelief as the unthinkable unfolded.”

How often today does the world remain in denial, pushing aside as “unthinkable” some very real dangers?

Credit: Doug Kanter/AFP


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.