Why is the Israeli Far-Right so upset with the Supreme Court?

With increasing frequency, Israeli Far-Right politicians vent their anger about the Israeli Supreme Court, claiming unjust interference with the Democratic Process and the activities and rights of the Knesset.

The latest burst of anger was released last week with the decision of the Court to invalidate the Settlements Regulations Law, which did give legitimacy to the theft of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers, with or without the consent of the Israeli Government.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin: “The Court Trampled Israeli Democracy”; Health Minister Yuri Edelstein: “The Court has lost it”; MK Bezalel Smotrich: “Judicial Dictatorship”; Council Head Binyamin Regional Council Israel Ganz: “Democracy and Rule of Law are absent in Jerusalem”. These are just some of the gems produced by Far-Right leaders, wishing to make it clear how much the Supreme Court has overstepped its boundaries.

But maybe these politicians, knowledgeable people (some of them at least), intelligent (?) and “real Democrats”, just need a short refreshers course in Democratic principles.

While the Democratic principle originates of course in Greece, the system is based upon ideas by the French philosopher Montesquieu, the main one of which is the principle of the separation of power.

The political system should consist of three main branches: the Legislative Branch, responsible for designing the Laws of the Country, as well as the supervision that these Laws are implemented (the Parliament, Congress, Knesset); The Executive Branch, responsible for the implementation of the Laws (the Government); and the Judiciary Branch, whose responsibility it is to make sure the Laws are being adhered to and to deliver judgement in disputes.

These principles are of course subject to different interpretations and every country has its own tweaks of how this is supposed to work, but the Separation of Powers is what makes a Democracy work, and only the adherence to this simple idea will assure that a balance of power is maintained.

In Israel, the discussion in the past years has focused mainly on the “abuse” of power by the Judiciary system (especially by the Supreme Court) in particular with respect to laws that were approved by the Knesset to be subsequently annulled or limited by the Supreme Court (Which has in fact happened very rarely). It has come to a point where the Knesset came up with “the Override Law”, whereby decisions of the Supreme Court regarding new laws may be annulled by a second passage in the Knesset. While we are not there yet, the prospect is frightening and worrisome, and will irreparably disrupt the balance of the three basic powers.

Many arguments are raised, both justified and not, about details in the Israeli law system that would restrict the powers of the Supreme Court and the legal implications of these details. It is impossible to list them all here, but they focus on two issues.

One, since Israel has no Constitution, and the “Basic Laws” that are being used (in the meantime), may in principle be changed by a simple majority of the Knesset , the possibility exist to limit the powers of the Supreme Court by changing the relevant Basic Laws. 

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