Friday, March 24, 2023

Judicial Reform - What is Really Going On

Agriculture minister, Avi Dichter (Arutz Sheva)
Emotions are running high in Israel.  The anti reform protests are reaching a fever pitch. 

How I long for the peaceful days of the Chazon Ish and Ben Gurion. I can’t think of 2 people whose ideologies about the Jewish people are further apart. And yet the two of them were able to reach an agreement that would allow for peaceful coexistence between adherents of those two disparate ideologies.

Those days are long gone.  A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Israel is now in a state of virtual civil war. Each side claiming the moral high ground. Each side claiming their position on judicial reform is the democratic position. Accusing the other side’s position to be one of a dictatorship.

A lot of prominent Israelis in areas like the military, high tech, entrepreneurship, the arts, and sciences have joined the protesters. Some have threatened to leave Israel and take with them all of their assets - both intellectual and monetary.

The emotions are so high that protesters have brought chaos into the lives of Bnei Brak residents (as though they could do anything about it): From the Jewish Press:

Hundreds of leftist protesters and anarchists marched through the main artery of haredi religious city of Bnei Brak on Thursday night, a time when many Orthodox Jewish families are out doing their shopping for Shabbat preparations the next day.

The demonstrators, using the de rigeur bass drum, megaphones, yelling and nonstop horn honking, effectively prevented local residents from going out to do their evening shopping but failed to engage the residents in conflict. 

In some cases those protests have morphed into violence. From Arutz Sheva: 

A female protester was filmed hitting government minister Avi Dichter on the head with an Israeli flag on Thursday, as Dichter left a meeting at Airport City. She has since been arrested. 

As I recently noted, this war is not so much about judicial reform as it is about whether Israel will be a largely secular democracy with a tolerance of religious Jews – which is pretty much the way the country was til now… or whether it will be a state that values religious law enough to deny one branch of government to constantly negate any legislation that favors religious values over secular ones.  

In other words this a ‘war’ is about whose values will be prioritized - religious or secular - when they collide. Religious Jews have felt short changed by the court in recent years. They see judicial reform as a necessary tool to restore what they feel they have lost. By the same token secular Jews fear losing what they have gained if judicial reform is passed in its current from. 

On the secular side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as the villain responsible for all this. They consider him a corrupt, self serving politician willing make deals with the devil in order to return to power and to remain free from prison. Regardless of what it does to the country. Their anger is palpable. But there is  another side that has an entirely different perspective on judicial reform.  From Arutz Sheva: 

Senior rabbis from the Religious-Zionist community, including Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Chaim Steiner, Rabbi David Chai Hacoheh, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, and Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, have issued a call to students in Religious-Zionist yeshivot to go out and stand at the crossroads and mobilize for a public awareness campaign designed to explain exactly what the government's judicial reform package contains and why it is so important. 

"We are obligated to mobilize in support of fixing the broken judicial system here," they continue. "We must also help all those who innocently believe the propaganda, and enable them to see the truth. Each and every person should do whatever he can -- standing at crossroads with signs, giving explanations, donating money. Each one of us must do his part, and together we will prevail." 

These rabbis are not just a bunch of radical Kahane supporters. They are not asking for violent confrontation. They are not demanding Palestinaisn be shipped out of the West Bank. They are only asking that their side – which they obviously feel is the just side -  be heard.  Just like the other side feels about their views.  To this point these rabbis have been rather quiet about the issue and have allowed others to speak for them. Now they are speaking up. 

Is it true that Netanyahu is determined to ram though this reform package as is for his own personal benefit – as the protesters assume? And if he succeeds, is this really the end of democrcay in Israel thye claim it will be?

It is not the end of democracy in Israel even if it passes as is.  As noted by an actual opponent of judicial reform, Alan Dershowitz. As reported by JNS

U.S. attorney and Harvard University emeritus law professor Alan Dershowitz said the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform program does not endanger Israel’s democracy and might even enhance it, 

Here in part is what Netanyahu said to calm those fears about this issue.

“I believe that it is possible to pass a reform that will provide a response to both sides, that will leave the proper balance between the authorities, and on the other hand preserve the individual rights of the citizens of the country.

“We did not come to trample, we came to balance and correct,” Netanyahu said.

“We are determined to correct [the system] and responsibly promote the reform that will restore the balance between the branches of government,” he said. “The best way is through litigation and obtaining as broad a consensus as possible.”

Nevertheless, he said, in order to reach a consensus, both sides must engage. Up to this point, he noted, the opposition has chosen not to have any input.  

This does not sound like the words of a man  not willing to negotiate. I just wish that instead of continuing to protest and thereby possibly increasing the incidence of violence, opposition leaders in the Knesset leaders would take up Netanyahu’s challenge to sit down and negotiate.  

Unfortunately things seem to have deteriorated to the point of no return. Opposition leaders want him out!  And they are using this crises as the means to get that done. And they are being cheered on by protesters who want  the same thing. And it seems that at this point, they will do whatever it takes. Including encouraging rebellion by military reservists and various other assorted high ranking military people.

Is getting rid of Netanyahu really worth weakening the military?!

Wouldn’t it be better to take up Netanyahu’s challenge and come to the table instead of ignoring him in the hopes of getting rid of him? I think it would be. It isn’t too late. But I just don’t think it will happen.

Will there be some sort of mass exodus of highly contributing secular Jews that will seriously hurt Israel in a multiplicity of ways? I sure hope not. My hope is that they will calm down and stay. And see that their dire predictions of being ‘enslaved’ by a new Israeli theocracy will not happen. Nor will Palestinians necessarily suffer any more than they do now. I believe that everyone will be able to lead their lives as before with little if any change. Even if judicial reform is passed as is.