Israel in mortal danger as left clings to all-powerful court to resist demographic change

Israel in mortal danger as left clings to all-powerful court to resist demographic change. By Greg Sheridan.

What is tragic is the mutual demonisation of the parties, the breakdown of the willingness to lose an argument, which underlies democracy.

I don’t believe Israel stands on the brink of civil war but it does stand in the middle potentially of society-wide civil disobedience. Two sides of an intensely polarised polity will not shoot at each other but they won’t acknowledge the legitimacy of basic institutions when they’re controlled by the other side. …

Curbing the court:

The [Supreme] court has become increasingly politicised. Its critics view it as arrogant and ideological, committed to a left-liberal and secular view of Israel. The court dreamed up all by itself the idea of disallowing legislation because it’s “unreasonable”. It decided it could annul any appointment of a cabinet minister, or reverse any cabinet decision or minister’s decision, in fact compel more or less any level of any government to desist from any action at all.

The court thus became a kind of second government of Israel, taking decisions that would normally be taken by democratically elected governments. …

Netanyahu’s government … wants to prevent the court from disallowing any legislation Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passes unless it contradicts the nation’s Basic Laws. It also wants to prevent the court vetoing cabinet appointments or reversing administrative decisions by individual cabinet ministers. Most import­ant, it wants to give government much greater say in appointing judges. It also wants to reduce the customary independence enjoyed by the attorney-general.

There’s a strong case for each of these reforms. Enacting them would bring Israel closer to Australian legal and administrative practice.

But there’s also a strong case against them. This arises out of Israel’s distinctive constitutional arrangements. Unlike Australia and the US, but similar to Britain and New Zealand, Israel doesn’t have a written constitution. Nor does it have a senate or any upper house, or federal states. Therefore the court is the only check or restraint or balance on any government that commands majority support in the Knesset. …

Surely a compromise on who has what powers is easy enough, like in every other western country? But demographic change means the left is going to lose power forever in Israel:

Liberal Israelis are determined to hang on to the court to enforce their preferred norms; conservative Israelis are determined to use their growing electoral clout to make the official norms reflect the new society. Demographics have moved Israeli politics to the right while the court has moved to the left.

Though the Jewish tradition is one of the most sublime, profound and influential in all human history, there are today only 16 million Jews in all the world. Nearly half of them live in Israel. …

Israel has a population of about 10 million. A little over 20 per cent are Arabs, who are Israeli citizens with full civic rights. A couple of per cent are Christians. The rest are Jewish.

The Arab birthrate in Israel is about three children per female. Among Jews it’s slightly lower. Among Jewish Israelis other than the ultra-Orthodox it’s about 2.5; among the ultra-Orthodox it’s nearly seven. Politically, demography is destiny. The ultra-Orthodox make up 11 to 13 per cent of Israel’s population. By 2050 they could be a quarter of Israel and a third of the Jewish population. …


The left are NOT going to hand over power to these guys


No one should demonise ultra-Orthodox Jews. I’ve visited such communities in the West Bank and found them to be humane societies of great warmth, of depth and learning, within the boundaries of their religious study. Their existence, after the Holocaust and everything else, is miraculous in itself. But one long-term problem is that they won’t serve in the army and don’t want to participate in the modern economy. At a certain point, their schools stop teaching secular subjects such as mathematics and concentrate on religious studies. The ultra-Orthodox argue this is their vocation; they give Israel its Jewish identity. They seek and receive state financial subsidies. When they were 2 per cent of the population, Israel could afford this financially and put up with it, even feel a little proud of it, politically.

Now, other Israelis resent the notionally temporary but in effect permanent exemption from the army.

Painful humor:

A recent joke has it that in Israel one-third of the country works, one-third pays taxes and one-third serves in the army. The problem is, it’s all the same third. …

A precedent? Surely not:

According to history, the Jews of first century Jerusalem fought each other furiously as Roman soldiers gathered outside the city before destroying the Jewish kingdom and the Second Temple.