The Israeli Right Seems to Be Pointing toward a New Way of Avoiding Constitutional Crisis

September 22, 2023 | Haviv Rettig Gur
About the author: Haviv Rettig Gur is the senior analyst for the Times of Israel.

In a recent speech, Simcha Rothman—a Religious Zionist-party parliamentarian and one of the major proponents of reforming the Jewish state’s judiciary—posed the question on which the country’s political future now turns. Now that the Knesset has passed a law curbing one of the Supreme Court’s powers, how can the court pass impartial judgment on that law’s constitutionality, a task it has recently taken up? Haviv Rettig Gur analyzes the speech, and observes a new approach emerging in Israel’s public conversation:

The political right no longer thinks it can ram any constitutional change it wants through the Knesset along narrow partisan lines. Or at least a great deal of it has become convinced of that. . . . A negotiated compromise on the overhaul is unlikely. Far-right factions that hold the deciding vote in the coalition can’t concede the minimum that opposition factions would need to sell any agreement to their voters. Nor does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu command enough basic trust among opposition parties, including rightist ones that hunger for a compromise, to allow the latter to enter into politically risky negotiations.

Rothman’s speech was emphatically the bellicose cry of defiance that everyone heard. But contained within it was also, in the quiet fashion of a political pivot trying to avoid calling attention to itself, an acquiescence to political realities and a tentative signal of a new way forward. The court could not be expected to “join the effort” of the radical overhaul proposed back in January. . . . But it could be called upon to join in a new kind of effort, the kind Rothman and Speaker of the Knesset Amir Ohana, and conservative commentators, seem to be hesitantly circling.

Rothman leveled a good and vital question at Israel’s justices last week. “Can you be the ones who judge on this question, without fear or favor, without being biased by the fact that you’re dealing with your own dignity, your own standing, your own authority? It’s clear to me that you believe you’re acting appropriately, but if you become the final arbiter of this question too, where are the checks? Where are the balances?”

Critics of the overhaul have been leveling that very question at Rothman himself, at the slim Knesset majority that claimed it was restoring checks and balances while concentrating nearly all power in a narrow parliamentary coalition dependent on the most radical fringes of Israeli politics.

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