Attempts to Reform the Israeli Judiciary Aren’t a Threat to Democracy

The platform of Israel’s incoming government will almost certainly include proposals to weaken the immense power of the supreme court. Among them would be a law that would empower the Knesset, with a simple majority, to override the court’s rulings. Last week, the outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid declared that the so-called “override clause,” if implemented, would “crush Israeli democracy,” and various academics and journalists have issued similarly dire warnings. Ruthie Blum, drawing heavily from an open letter (in Hebrew) by Gadi Taub, rebuts these criticisms:

There is no dispute that in Israel there is no structural separation between the legislative and executive branches. This is not unique to Israel; it characterizes the parliamentary system everywhere. Does this mean that separation of powers only prevails in a presidential system? Certainly not. It means that the separation of powers is not hermetic in the parliamentary system, and thus the nature of its checks and balances is also different. But the remedy cannot be the authorization of a court, with no defined limit to its power, to have the final decision-making authority in all matters, when its members are not appointed by elected officials, but rather, in practice, by their peers.

The definition of democracy is, indeed, the “sovereignty of the citizens.” This should be stressed in the face of the misleading discourse adopted by jurists following [the former chief justice, and architect of the court’s radical expansion of its own powers] Aharon Barak, who reduced the expression of this sovereignty—elections—to the rank of “procedure.”

The idea that the will of the people is a fascist monster, and thus needs to have an unchallengeable authority placed over it, is misleading and, in any case, undemocratic. If the people do not want democracy, there will be no democracy. No court will be able to impose democracy—or liberalism (i.e. human rights)—from above, without the sovereignty of the people.

Concentration of power in the hands of the court does not constitute insurance against the danger of the trampling of human rights. . . . In the Dred Scott ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court supported slavery, while the elections that brought Abraham Lincoln to power led to its abolition in a bloody war.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli politics, Israeli Supreme Court, Yair Lapid

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus