Thursday, March 29, 2007

Daas Torah, Blogs, and the Israeli Courts

Well it seems that we have a new presence in the blog-o-sphere, Rabbi Avraham Ravitz. That’s right, the same Rabbi Ravitz that is a member of Degel HaTorah, the Lithuanian based faction of the Agudat Israel Party, the party of the Charedim that is supported by all the Gedolei HaTorah in Israel. I’m glad to see that Israeli Daas Torah now recognizes the value of blogs and contributing to the public discourse.

As to the substance of his post, it is an explanation of a bill he is introducing in the Kenesset, that would weaken the stranglehold of the courts upon Israeli society. This is an opinion shared by many. The fact is, as Rabbi Ravitz indicates, that no matter how judicially well qualified the justices in the Israeli Supreme court are, the way it is currently structured means that it represents only a narrow ideological slice of Israeli society. It thereby cannot fairly represent all of its constutueants. By allowing the political biases of the few, no matter how talented, it imposes its will on the many.

He offers this bill in the context of the process Israel is undergoing of trying to draw up a constitution. In my view, Israel would be wise to follow the American style of government of three equal branches of power. But the current system is a parliamentary one based on the British model. As I understand it the reason it is structered that way is because this is the system that was extant just prior to statehood under the British Mandate. It is just a continuation of it.

The powers of the various branches have not been accurately defined in Israel precisely because there is no constitution. I’m not sure how or why, but it seems the Supreme Court in Israel has usurped an inordinate amount of power. They in effect have taken over lawmaking by determining laws they don’t like as unconstitutional. This is quite a feat considering they have no constitution. Rabbi Ravitz’s bill would take away some of that power and restore it to the Kenesset. Here he states his proposal and its purpose:

"The purpose of the bill I submitted, titled “Judicial Criticism,” is to reinstate respect in our lives and to ensure that each democratic arm fulfills its task. If a situation arises in which the Judiciary believes the legislature has acted in a manner that harms our basic laws or a humane way of life, it will re-submit the law back to the Knesset for further review and a final stamp of approval. "

I think it is a reasonable proposal if it means that when a law is deemed unconstitutional, it can be resubmitted to the Kenesset to be re-written in a Constitutional way. But doesn’t the Kenesset have the abilty to do that anyway? What’s to stop it from rewriting the law in a way that will pass "constitutional" muster? Is it now forbidden to do so? I doubt that. If it is then then Israel has become a dictatorship of the courts. If not, why is this bill necessary? I guess this bill needs further explanation. But in theory, I agree that no branch of Governement should have more power than any other. It has worked out quite well that way in the US and there is no reason it wouldn’t work out well in Israel too.