Israel Has Dodged a Constitutional Crisis, but Only Temporarily

April 3, 2020 | Evelyn Gordon
About the author: Evelyn Gordon is a commentator and former legal-affairs reporter who immigrated to Israel in 1987. In addition to Mosaic, she has published in the Jerusalem Post, Azure, Commentary, and elsewhere. She blogs at Evelyn Gordon.

Two weeks ago, then-Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein refused to hold a vote for his replacement, insisting that, in keeping with precedent, the new speaker should only be chosen after a governing coalition has been formed. As his move prevented the newly installed Israeli parliament from resuming its normal business, the Supreme Court tried to break the impasse with two unprecedented interventions into the legislative branch. To Evelyn Gordon, Edelstein acted out of a “genuine and serious concern” about constitutionally questionable moves by his opponents, even if the court was justified in its order that elections for the new speaker take place.

But then the court took things one step further by taking it upon itself to name a temporary speaker to oversee the election of Edelstein’s replacement:

It’s impossible to overstate how outrageous this is. First, the ruling flagrantly violated the Basic Law [concerning the operations of the Knesset], which the court itself deems constitutional legislation. This law mandates a single Knesset speaker, but the court created two speakers serving simultaneously: Edelstein, who [by this point had resigned but] by law retained full powers [for two days] until his resignation took effect, and the temporary speaker, whose authority would be limited to holding a vote on a new speaker.

Anyone who cares about democracy should be appalled by this. And the fact that leftists overwhelmingly supported it shows that their professed concern for “democracy” is mere camouflage; what they want is a judicial dictatorship.

Just before the conflict between the legislative and judicial branches came to a head, Benny Gantz intervened by announcing that he and Benjamin Netanyahu would form a unity government, thus diffusing crisis. But, Gordon continues, the constitutional questions will undoubtedly resurface:

[I]f rightists were angry at the High Court before, they’re furious now. Whenever the next election is, this will be a voting issue. If the right wins, it will pass legislation to restrain the court. And since the court won’t let its excessive power be curbed without a fight, it will undoubtedly retaliate by declaring the legislation unconstitutional.

In other words, the constitutional crisis has merely been postponed, not resolved. And it’s likely to get very ugly before it’s over.

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