Learning opportunity about Israeli judicial reform and political climate
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Yaron Deckel, regional director to Canada of the Jewish Agency for Israel, explained the history of the current turmoil in Israel during “The Labyrinth of Israel Politics: Judicial Reform and its Implications,” a webinar hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas July 26, 2023.

On Wednesday, July 26, the Jewish Federation hosted a webinar, “The Labyrinth of Israel Politics: Judicial Reform and its Implications,” which discussed judicial reform in Israel. The timely program, which had been planned for weeks, came just two days after the first plank of judicial reform was passed by the Knesset Monday, July 24, following months of turmoil. Yaron Deckel, regional director to Canada of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), provided historical context and background as well as an analysis and some predictions of what may be to come in the months ahead. In his role with JAFI, Deckel works with 12 Federations across Canada. Before JAFI, Deckel spent three decades as a political journalist in Israel both as a reporter and political commentator. He was the last journalist to interview Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, just 10 minutes before Rabin was assassinated in 1995, Deckel told the audience.

Deckel noted the strife that Israel has experienced since Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government was formed in January. “Israel is polarized and divided,” he said.

Understanding Israel’s coalition government

Deckel framed his remarks within the context of understanding that the setup of Israel’s government is quite different from that of the United States.

He noted that:

Israel is a multi-party system.

The prime minister isn’t elected, but the party is. The prime minister gets his or her power from the coalition from the parliament.

There are no term limits for the prime minister.

There are 120 members of parliament and the party that wins the election must have 61 votes in order to form its coalition government.

Unlike the United States, Israel Supreme Court justices do not serve for life; they have a mandatory retirement at age 70. There are 15 justices.

Unlike the United States, justices are not appointed by the prime minister. A nine-member committee made up of politicians, members of the bar and justices from the Supreme Court has the sovereignty to nominate all the judges.

How did the government get so far to the right?

It took Netanyahu five elections to form the current government.

“On the first four rounds, there was no majority for each of the camps. On the last, fifth one, Netanyahu astonished and shocked the parliament and the country, with 64 seats, some of them from the extreme right. And this is the most rightist government Israel ever had,” Deckel said.

According to Deckel, in the past Netanyahu has had opposition members of his coalition government that were left of center. However, because he is being tried for corruption, members of the opposition refused to join a coalition government.

Deckel said that he has had many people inquire how the government got so far to the right so quickly. He said that he traces the right shift to several key periods. Following the collapse of the Oslo Accords in 1992 there were many suicide bombing attacks in the mid-1990s; the Israeli public in response “took its first turn to the shift to the right,” he said. Then in 2005, after the disengagement by Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from Gaza, there have been rockets and missiles from Gaza into Israeli cities, causing another right shift. The most recent turn to the right came in 2021 during the Guardian of the Walls Operation; Arabs and Jews, neighbors, took to the streets and fought one another.

Issues of concern

Deckel explained that there are a number of issues that are of concern and at the heart of the judicial reform. First, with regard to the legislation that was passed July 24, Deckel said that the concern is that it renders the Supreme Court powerless.

“The reasonableness clause means the Supreme Court will be barred from intervening in matters related or arising from the appointment of ministers or by appointments made by ministers,” Deckel said.

He said that before the Knesset law July 24, the Supreme Court had ability “to override nomination of ministers, as they did a couple of months ago. There was a minister from the Shas Sephardic party, the head of the party, who was already convicted twice in criminal cases and they decided that he has to resign and if not, the prime minister has to fire him.”

However, after the July 24 law, the ability of the Supreme Court to override an appointment like the one above has changed. The upshot of this is that there is no check on the nominations or laws coming out of parliament. The coalition government in power will be able to nominate whomever they want with no recourse. “The hands of the supreme court are cuffed because of this,” Deckel said. In addition, he explained that overriding legislation will require a majority of 12 of 15 justices and that the chief justice will no longer be chosen based on seniority but effectively chosen by the government. The far-right coalition will hold the majority of the selection committee responsible for selecting the Supreme Court justices.

Issue on the horizon

The Law of Return — in the past anyone with a Jewish grandparent could become a citizen of Israel relatively quickly. Due to recent waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union, members of the right want to amend the Law of Return because people are gaining citizenship to Israel who have no real connection to Judaism.

“The Jewish Agency has already stated in a letter to the prime minister saying that on behalf of Jewish communities around the world, this should be done in a dialogue, not unilaterally by the government or the coalition after dialogue, talking with Jewish communities and with a Jewish Agency as the representative of the Jewish community,” Deckel said.

Almost 300 people logged on to watch “The Labyrinth of Israel Politics: Judicial Reform and its Implications.” In his welcoming remarks, Igor Alterman, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas (JFGD) president and CEO, said the goal of the program was “to help us better understand and be better informed and educated about the shifting dynamics in Israeli society, how they affect Israel, as well as how the decisions and that legislation in Israel may affect us, the diaspora and the Jewish community and abroad.”

While the majority of the attendees were from North Texas, others were from the Austin, Houston and San Antonio areas. Community partners included: from North Texas, Anti-Defamation League–Texoma, American Jewish Committee–Dallas, Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, Congregations Anshai Torah, Beth Torah, Ner Tamid and Shearith Israel, Dallas Chapter of Hadassah, Temple Shalom and Tiferet Israel Congregation; from around the state, Jewish Federation of Houston, Jewish Federation of San Antonio and Shalom Austin; and international partner, Jewish Agency for Israel.

The detailed and informative presentation is available to view at bit.ly/3KnRyHM.

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  1. Irina

    Israel is independent country and people in Israel can make own decisions about judicial reform. Majority in the Knesset support this reform (64:0). Israel is democratic country and majority in the Knesset is very important.
    So, leftist people should not insight Israel and fight on the street.

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