The Constitutional Crisis behind Israel’s Showdown over Its Judiciary

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.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Israel's Basic Law, Israeli politics, Israeli Supreme Court


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