In Israel, Conservative Legal Thought Comes into Its Own

December 28, 2020 | Nettanel Slyomovics
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The newly created Israel Law and Liberty Forum seeks to model itself after America’s Federalist Society—an organization for promoting constitutional jurisprudence that has come to have a major influence over conservative judicial appointments. Led by Aylana Meisel and Yonatan Green and backed by the Tikvah Fund, the group seeks to cultivate new thinking and a new approach in a country where a single judicial philosophy—drawing on certain strands of European and American jurisprudence—has dominated for decades. Nettanel Slyomovics writes:

At the beginning of 2018, Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s justice minister at the time, set out to nominate a Supreme Court justice. Her preference was for a conservative jurist with a legal education and résumé sufficiently impressive to clear the high bar set by the Judicial Appointments Committee. She was taken aback to discover that she didn’t have a nominee who fit the bill. Her only option was to import a candidate. The result: a little-known legal scholar, Alex Stein, was invited to return from the United States, where he had been living for almost a decade and a half since leaving Israel with his family, as he had acquired professional experience that would meet the criteria.

The answer to [the problem of] finding conservative intellectuals began to emerge in January 2020, when the Tikvah Fund launched a new initiative: the Israel Law and Liberty Forum. The forum’s solemnly declared aim is to advance a “conservative legal worldview” among Israeli jurists, according to its website. In its first year, the coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding, the organization founded two student chapters, at the law faculties of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University; organized student debates, in some cases via Zoom, and a writing competition; and ran a summer seminar for “Israel’s top law students.”

The forum’s website also declares its intention to establish a community of legal professionals who “identify with one or more” of four concepts, which it describes as basic to American conservatism: “judicial restraint, separation of powers, individual liberty, and limited government.”

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