Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism, envisioned the role of the president of the State of Israel as being ceremonial and above political strife. This vision was incorporated into various documents following Israel’s founding: The president was to be a non-partisan head of state who represented the country as a whole.
And that is how it has been, until last week, when our current president, Isaac Herzog, opted to make an outrageously partisan, political statement about the judicial reforms currently being formulated. I say partisan: he moved way over to the left. (Actually, I shouldn’t say “he moved” – he is left, having come out of the Labor Party. What he did was drop his non-partisan stance.)
He declared: “The package of legislation currently being discussed in the [Constitution] Committee needs to disappear, and quickly.
“It is wrong, it is oppressive, it undermines our democratic foundations. And therefore, it must be replaced with another plan, one that has consensus, and immediately.”
This was most unfortunate, and my gut response – in addition to anger – was a sense that he either does not know what he is talking about or does not care since he has joined the political fray to the left. To say that the legislation “undermines our democratic foundations” is nonsense. It enhances democracy.
We might say, I suppose – and this would be a considerable stretch — that Herzog’s motivation was giving the left what they wanted to hear, in order to stop the way they were tearing the country apart. If so, he misjudged badly. He has provided new energy to the demonstrators. Lapid was delighted.
In truth, there is a huge problem with reaching a compromise backed by consensus (meaning it would satisfy the demonstrators). That’s because the people out on the street have been incited and fed lies. Most of those who go out to demonstrate have only a very fuzzy idea about how the legislation for judicial reform would allegedly destroy democracy. Thus, they cannot possibly have a solid grasp of what might ameliorate the problems – short of dropping all reforms, of course.
We know that the crowd on the street lacks a basic understanding of what the legal reforms are all about because of various interviews – in which the interviewees are vague in their answers, if not evasive – and because of polls.
This came out less than a week ago (emphasis added):
“A large majority of Israelis support Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial reforms, the Direct Polls institute reported…presenting a different picture from the polls suggesting the controversy surrounding the reforms are causing the coalition to lose support.
“According to the institute, the polls cited by the mainstream media in Israel do not include specific questions on the content of the judicial reform, and respondents are much more supportive of the reforms when asked about specific aspects.
“About 60% of Israelis support the vast majority of the judicial reforms when asked questions about the content of the reforms, Direct Polls stated…
“In total, Direct Polls found that 78% of Israelis are in favor of reforming Israel’s judicial system to at least some extent…”
But there is an even more significant reason why modifying the legal reforms won’t satisfy the demonstrators. It is because there is a great deal more going on, as the riotous demonstrations continue, than discontent with legal reforms.
This is the heart of the matter. Legal reform is being used as the rationale of the demonstrations, but the discontent of the demonstrators is actually centered elsewhere. We saw weeks and weeks of raucous anti-Bibi demonstrations before the elections, and the same people are out there now demonstrating against the fact that he won the election. That is why they attempted to block the prime minister’s way to the airport last week, seeking to inconvenience and embarrass him.
More broadly still, they are demonstrating against a right-wing government.
See Martin Sherman, of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, on this:
“The last vestige of the left’s undemocratic power is threatened, a prospect it views with a mixture of horror and disbelief.”
Sherman details ways in which the left’s power has been undemocratic.
The fact that other issues are fueling the demonstrations leads some commentators to predict that they will continue even after there is resolution on the judicial reforms.
Much is reported in the media about persons of influence and prestige who are against the legal reforms, and so it is important to share information about others who are solidly for it.
At the beginning of March, 120 Israeli professors launched a petition in support of judicial reform: “Wide-ranging reform of the judicial system is vital, due to the judicial revolution led by Prof. Aharon Barak [a former Supreme Court President] which disturbed the balance of powers between the various branches of government.”
While the petition encourages negotiations held in the Knesset, it warns that “…this must not detract from the essential process of amending the judicial system, which in recent years has greatly overstepped its boundaries and encroached on the powers of the other branches of authority.”
The professors are from Bar Ilan University, the Weizmann Institute, the Technion, as well as Haifa University, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and Ben Gurion University.
Among those signing the petition is widely venerated Professor Yisrael (Robert) Aumann, Nobel Laureate and recipient of the Israel Prize.
Just days ago, 1,000 members of Likud released a letter of support for judicial reform. It states the case very well (Emphasis added):
“We, 1,000 members of the Likud party and the heads of party branches, wish to express our support for the judicial reforms and for a restoration of balance between the branches of government. These amendments will strengthen democracy as well as the Israeli economy. The reforms will also strengthen the courts, not weaken them. They will restore public confidence in the judicial system and the courts, which is the basis of a judicial system that is strong, reliable, and well-functioning.
“This is an historic opportunity to restore balance that was upset to the point where it is no longer aligned with the prevailing and accepted situation in the majority of the democratic world. It is an opportunity to return governance to the people. We call on all those involved in this task and ask of you: Put an end to the tyranny of the minority over the majority. Put an end to the rule of the elites and restore the rule of the people.”
In his statement last week, Herzog also said that he has been working on substitute legislation, a compromise that is near completion. MK Simcha Rothman (RZP), Chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, put out a statement this morning (Sunday) during a hearing of the Committee:
“Even after the flood of lies and slanders, we will continue to reach out, we continue to want to bring something forward which has wide agreement.
“Even though I very much disagreed with what the president [Herzog] said, I will be attentive to his words. The president himself also said that the legislation should have acceptance in the Knesset. We will listen attentively.
“I am visiting him today, and we are not closing the door no matter how much they speak against us and how big the gaps are. The gaps in the negotiations would not be large if they would understand that they [proposed reforms] are not coming to burn the country.”
I will be following up on this but have scant expectation that there will be sincere negotiations with the left participating. As commentator Ruthie Blum observed days ago:
“The idea that it’s possible at this juncture to conduct rational talks with hysteria-mongering judicial-reform rejectionists is tenuous, at best.”
It is thus important that Levin and Rothman intend to continue to advance the reform legislation, even as they leave the door open for discussions.
One of the most serious consequences of the massive demonstrations being held every Saturday night, and on other days as well, is the impression it gives of a nation divided and therefore weak.
I am convinced that this is a factor in the increase in terror attacks. Yet another factor is that the police presence is spread thinner because of the need to be at the demonstrations in large number.
None of us should take this lightly, and the fact that the demonstrating mobs are oblivious to everything but their own event is unsettling, to say the lease.
Hadar Noga Lavi, two years old, is dead. She was from Shilo in Binyamin.
She had sustained serious injuries, near Ofra, in a vehicular terror attack a week ago.
Her mother, Idit Lavi, explained: “On [last] Saturday night, Hadar hurt herself and needed stitches, and we drove to Shaare Zedek [Hospital] to get her treated. In the morning, on the way home, at quarter to seven, shortly after we passed Ofra, a car entered my lane. The driver looked at me, I turned into his lane, he returned to his lane, I returned back to my lane and then he ran into me head-on.
“He didn’t hesitate. He had a very clear goal and immediately after the vehicle stopped turning and turning, Arabs surrounded…my car…and said in Hebrew ‘Well done, well done.’
I was certain they were going to lynch me, and called the MDA. I was hysterical…Three vehicles behind me was an ambulance that saw and arrived quickly, and they helped us.” (Emphasis added)
On Friday, Hadar succumbed to her injuries and was laid to rest.
Funeral is included in the link directly above.
My friends, I am not able to report these horrendous events any more without tears. But I will continue to report, and will continue to weep, until we have better days, may they come speedily.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.