One Politician’s 30 Years of Legal Troubles Can Explain the Controversy over the Israeli Judiciary

Jan. 25 2023

Last week, Israel’s supreme court ruled that Aryeh Deri—the head of the Shas party and the recently inaugurated minister of health, minister of the interior, and vice-prime minister—could not maintain his cabinet posts. The court argued that Deri had promised to withdraw from political life as a condition of a 2022 plea bargain in which he confessed to tax fraud, and could not renege on his commitment. Despite Deri’s insistence that he had made no such promise, Benjamin Netanyahu led his cabinet in voting for Deri’s dismissal, which went into effect yesterday.

Netanyahu’s decision to abide by the supreme court’s ruling suggests that he is not so quick to dismiss the judicial branch as some of his opponents fear; yet it also appears to some of his supporters as further evidence that the government must curb the power of the high court. But to understand this controversy fully, writes Haviv Rettig Gur, one must go back to 1993, when Deri was serving in the cabinet of Prime Minister Yitzḥak Rabin, and was about to be indicted on charges of corruption:

The question the high court had to answer in 1993 was not whether it was appropriate for an indicted minister to serve in government. No one, not even Deri himself, argued that it was. The question was the timing—whether the prime minister could wait to fire Deri until a formal indictment was filed with the court. The letter of the law was on Rabin’s side, as Attorney General Harish and the opinion of Justice Aharon Barak both made clear.

Also, the traditional reasons for judicial intervention did not exist: no rights were colliding or at stake; no clear law was being trampled; Rabin was not suspected of ulterior motives or failure to consider all aspects of his decision. He had weighed his decision carefully, the judges wrote, balancing the needs of the government, of public welfare, and of the public’s trust in state institutions.

But, they ruled, he’d then made the wrong call, prioritizing his government’s survival and his peace initiative over the need to ensure public trust in state bodies. [Instead, according to the court, Rabin should have fired] Deri sooner than the written law required. The “extreme unreasonableness” finding was based on the judges’ expectation that Rabin’s decision “will have extreme ramifications for the character of government in Israel, its good faith and decency.”

The decision went further. One of the key questions raised by the Deri case was what happened when a prime minister and an attorney general disagreed. In the case of Deri’s . . . firing, Rabin and his attorney general were at odds, which made it difficult for the attorney general, whose Hebrew title is “legal adviser to the government,” to represent Rabin’s view before the court. More to the point, Harish refused to do so.

What was to be done? . . . Justice Barak took up the question in his opinion and explained that it was the wrong question. The real question, he wrote, was whether the government had a right to act contrary to the attorney general’s opinion in the first place. And the answer, he concluded, was no.

This was one of several decisions that convinced many Israelis that the court had far overreached the proper bounds of its authority.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Aryeh Deri, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politics, Israeli Supreme Court

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy