This is seriously starting to threaten Israeli democracy

Uzi Landau, Yisrael Beitenu MK and Israeli minister for infrastructure (who recently visited Australia, incidentally) spoke yesterday on the new reforms to the Israeli High Court that his party are trying to push through.

I find what he said terrifying.
Judicial selection reform postpon… JPost – Diplomacy & Politics.

I think that over the past 20 years, the behavior of the Supreme Court, and the legal system in general, has become a mistake of the democratic system.

We need to change this matter on a basic level.

I think that if the Supreme Court justices knew how to act in an orderly matter, without imposing themselves into issues that don’t concern them, without interfering with the actions of the Knesset, or the actions of the government, and if they were less politically motivated in their decisions, then the current selection process would remain.

But, the problem is bad, and we must deal with it.

Just to explain the context behind the bill he is talking about, this is not the only change that they are making. The coalition is introducing dramatic reforms to the judicial selection process to give them more control over who is appointed and to get their friends in.

Peres: Israeli right-wing bills are ‘digression from democracy’ – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

The Knesset approved on Monday evening a bill proposing to abolish the rule that a justice cannot be appointed Supreme Court president unless he is at least three years short of the mandatory retirement age of 70. The bill would pave Justice Asher Grunis’ way to becoming Supreme Court president. Fifty-two MKs voted in favor, 35 voted against the bill.

Grunis is seen as a conservative judge who mostly refrains from intervening in decisions made by the executive and legislative branches, and is thus popular with right-wing politicians. But when Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch retires at the end of February 2012, Grunis will be five weeks short of three years from retirement.

Another bill, dubbed ‘the Sohlberg bill,’ and sponsored by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) was also approved. The bill would change the way the Israel Bar Association’s two representatives on the Judicial Appointments Committee are selected. Currently, the bar’s national council picks both; the bill would require one to be the bar chairman and the other a member of the bar’s internal opposition.

The bill paves the way for Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg to sitting on Israel’s highest tribunal of justice. Sohlberg, who lives in the settlement of Alon Shvut, has in the past been criticized for rulings thought to infringe freedom of the press.

This is following the bill a few months ago that was passed for the purposes of prosecuting the political enemies of Avigdor Lieberman and his Beitenu party. I have to lay this out in stark terms. Under the impetus of Beitenu, the Israeli Knesset is doing the following:

  • If they have a political enemy who says things that they don’t like but is technically doing nothing illegal, they pass a law that makes that person’s conduct illegal and then prosecute.
  • If they are supporting things that are in fact illegal, but are blocked by the courts, they pass new laws so that their cronies can be appointed into judicial positions to approve their activities.
This is exactly the kind of pattern that sees a democracy slowly slide into dictatorship. The two most fundamental elements of a democracy are the freedom of speech and an independent judiciary that can hold the government to account. Elections are not up there, the most important thing is that people can debate and scrutinise the government and the government is subject to the law, not the other way around. If judicial independence and free speech are taken away, Israel will cease to be a democracy.
I am actually terrified by this.
I do want to qualify this. The other bill being passed regarding restrictions to foreign funding of NGO’s is a good idea.

Israeli NGOs brace for restrictions on foreign funding – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already announced support for one of the bills, sponsored by two members of his Likud party – MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis – which would cap foreign governments’ contributions to “political” non-governmental organizations at NIS 20,000.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, meanwhile, is throwing its weight behind the second initiative brought forth by party MK Fania Kirshenbaum, which would slap a 45 percent tax on foreign governments’ donations to NGOs ineligible for state funding.

Damn straight. I find it hugely problematic that millions of dollars of foreign government money flows tax-free into Israel every year, particularly as a lot of it goes to organisations which work to undermine Israel as a state. When foreign governments are involved, it is not an issue of free speech, it’s an issue of foreign policy. European countries funding anti-Israel activists within Israel is essentially a form of diplomatic warfare and it is perfectly legitimate for Israel to deal with it as such.

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