Tensions are now high in Israel over the government’s efforts to pass legislation that would curb the power of the Supreme Court to strike down laws at will, and that would put the selection of new justices under the control of elected parliamentarians. To Haviv Rettig Gur, much of the Israeli left’s reaction to these proposals amounts to “panic-stricken keening,” yet he also urges the right to recognize that there are also more reasoned objections. At the heart of the conflict, in Gur’s reckoning, is a fundamental weakness in the Jewish state’s unwritten constitution:
Israel’s parliament is unicameral; no second house can veto or curtail its actions. Political parties are extremely centralized; most Knesset members are appointed by party leaders, not in a primary vote or by regional election. The executive and legislative are functionally a single body, since the government is established and manned by members of the parliamentary majority. There are, in other words, exceedingly few of those all-important checks and balances one hears about in civics classes in democratic countries.
If the court is weakened, the center-left is now asking, what will stand in the way of an aggressive majority should it seek to take away the rights of minorities?
Yet this very anxiety lays bare a larger problem. By arguing that the rights and freedoms of Israelis, and especially minorities, are sustained solely by a single vulnerable institution, the center-left is effectively declaring the battle already lost.
In [the event of a] larger constitutional expansion, a weakened court is no longer a bug but a feature. If the left believes its own claim that nothing now protects minorities except that unelected court, then even a victory that preserves the court’s powers for one more election cycle isn’t enough.