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Opinion Blog / Guest Columnist

Israel's Supreme Court vs Aryeh Deri: The mother of all showdowns

Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri at a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A showdown consists of two opposing sides, both competing for the win. It is defined as a confrontation intended to settle a dispute, and this is exactly what is happening right now in Israel.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that a 10-1 decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of Israel, stating that Shas party leader, Aryeh Deri could not hold a ministerial position in the Netanyahu coalition due to past criminal infractions, for which he served jail time. Under the Basic Law of Israel, such individuals are unfit for ministerial appointments and, therefore, precluded from serving.

Nonetheless, the government coalition, unwilling to honor the decision of the court, decided to propose a law barring any judicial review of potential ministers, something that would effectively reverse the decision and make it possible for Deri to serve. And how will this be done? Simple! An amendment will be made allowing for no judicial review, leaving only two basic eligibility requirements, which include being a resident and citizen of Israel and fulfilling a 7-year waiting period to serve as minister following a moral transgression.

Those in favor of the new law, which would circumvent the court’s decision, justify its passage by saying that judicial review, in itself, challenges democracy and the will of voters, but it’s a bit of an odd argument for the way candidates win elections in Israel. Because within the building of a coalition, there are frequently deals made with less popular groups in order to reach a certain threshold of required mandates. Consequently, this grants power to a party which, on its own, would not have enough votes to be a leading voice. For example, Shas received 9 seats, while Likud received 36. So, when you make the comparison, why should a party that received two-thirds less votes end up having an inordinate amount of power and control over the lives of Israel’s citizens who did not vote for them en masse?

The truth is that whether or not Aryeh Deri becomes a minister with portfolios, few believe that he will not greatly influence the direction taken by the government, both as a close political ally of Netanyahu and as the head of his party. His party has no qualms about looking the other way as to the type of crimes committed by someone on more than one occasion. This points to a non-functioning moral compass within the Shas party itself. The fact that not one member would come out and be willing to say that Deri is unfit to lead or influence God’s chosen people is more than disturbing, to say the least. Can anything good come from such unethical individuals?

The issue here is that, similar to the U.S., Israel has three different branches which comprise the governance of the country. They are the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The executive branch is made up of the government coalition, the legislative branch is made up of the Knesset, and the judicial is made up of the court system. The problem is that the Knesset has a majority of 64 voices, which also make up the executive, giving them an overwhelming hold over the remaining 56 opposition voices. Many of those in the opposition are splintered and cannot agree as one voice, unlike the right-wing, mostly religious parties.

If the situation allows for the Knesset legislative majority to unduly influence the executive branch, then the checks and balances no longer operate as an accountable force, keeping everyone in their right lane. Two branches which operate as one would be a sure recipe for a lack of democracy and a shift towards dictatorship.

And this is the fear of many outsiders who are weighing in on why overriding the court is not just a bad decision but one which could have far-reaching consequences as to how outsiders, especially, view what has always been lauded as the only real democratic country in the Middle East.

One case in point is U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who believes that mass support is a prerequisite to change the system. In his words, he stated, “Building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they are embraced and that the endure.”

By suggesting that such a reform is led by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, his hope is that it will not be “tied to the political and diplomatic agenda of Netanyahu’s new government.” Other voices were stronger and more direct. National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar stated, “The cynical and unconstrained attempt to prevent judicial review ‘for any reason’ is a disgrace.”  Former defense minister and present National Unity Chairman Benny Gantz stated, “Israel’s security would be damaged by the judicial reform, since security was first and foremost the strength of society.”

Goldman Sachs, the leading global investment banking securities firm, has publicly come out to warn how the reforms could injure the economy as their “economics research department warned that the proposed reforms could harm the Israeli shekel as they have ‘sparked concern among some investors including locals, that the reforms could reduce judicial independence in Israel, and that – for example, by eventually reducing FDI (foreign direct investment) or tech sector growth in Israel.”

An article in The Jerusalem Post entitled “Risk to the Israeli Economy,” also stated, “Given the Israeli economy’s significant dependence on international financial markets and accepted standards and norms, we must not risk the Israeli economy’s standing in the global markets. The reaction of investors and rating agencies to the planned changes, which would curtail or weaken judicial oversight of actions by the government and legislature (Knesset) and weaken the system of checks and balances among the branches of government, is likely to be sharp and swift.”

Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and widely renowned constitutional expert, also weighed in on his recent trip to Israel, telling the prime minister, “Bibi, your reforms aren’t just flawed, they’re dangerous." Perhaps, the most shocking statement Dershowitz made was that such a move would “make it harder for people like him to defend Israel in international courts.”

There is no question that judicial reforms could give Israel a bad name and further injure her standing in what is already a very one-sided world view of the Jewish homeland. So, the question that our leaders should ask themselves might be, 'Given the blatant biases of entities, such as the UN, the EU, proponents of the BDS movement and all the anti-Semites who already hate us, is this a prudent path that is worth taking just to accommodate the appointment of a lawbreaker who wants to become a governmental minister?' At what cost are we willing to help our enemies by giving them more ammunition?

We should all agree that the price is just too steep, nor can the effort be justified, because it simply will not enhance our standing in the eyes of anyone!

ALL ISRAEL NEWS is committed to fair and balanced coverage and analysis, and honored to publish a wide-range of opinions. That said, views expressed by guest columnists may not necessarily reflect the views of our staff.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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