Today’s vote by the Netanyahu government to curtail the Israeli Supreme Court’s authority to overturn the government’s administrative decisions through its “reasonableness standard” is a terrible blow to Israeli democracy and to the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. The decision to unilaterally ram through this key piece of the judicial overhaul, in the face of historic opposition and unprecedented protest from so many corners of Israeli society, now plunges Israel into an alarming new phase of its civic turmoil and constitutional crisis.
With the “reasonableness standard” repealed with respect to a critical range of government decisions, the Supreme Court has lost a major piece of its ability to act as a balance on the actions of the executive. This extreme-right government will have an increasingly unrestricted hand to carry out major appointments, dismissals and policies without fear that they could be halted and overturned by the court. Their agenda will almost certainly include deeply harmful new acts of annexation and expropriation in the West Bank, where they continue to pursue a one-state nightmare of permanent occupation and exclusive sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. It will continue to chip away at the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people, Palestinians (both Israeli citizens and those in the occupied territory), non-Orthodox Jews and many others.
While it was good to see Congress and the White House celebrate the US-Israel relationship and Israeli democracy during President Herzog’s visit last week, the truth is that far, far more must be done to recognize and respond to the grave crisis that is underway. President Herzog may be right that Israel has “democracy in its DNA,” and yet – as we’ve seen in the United States as well – the resilience and survival of even longstanding democracies is never guaranteed. That’s exactly why hundreds of thousands of Israelis are now in the streets, why incredible acts of protest and civil disobedience are taking place, and why IDF reservists, chiefs of staff and other security leaders are accusing the Netanyahu government of sabotaging Israel’s founding values and destroying the social contract with its citizens.
These Israelis need our government’s full-throated support – now. Netanyahu and his extremist coalition partners have deliberately crossed a major anti-democratic red line. They have ignored the Biden Administration’s polite warnings and objections, just as they have consistently ignored objections to major acts of settlement expansion and creeping annexation in the West Bank. While the Netanyahu government fundamentally alters Israel’s democratic character and plows ahead toward a more authoritarian and ethno-nationalist future, “business as usual” from Congress and the White House is a recipe for terrible failure.
As the political home for the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy majority of Jewish Americans, J Street will continue to sound the alarm and to stand in solidarity with those Israelis who are struggling to defend democracy. We will continue to push our elected officials to leave behind pandering rhetoric and partisan games, and focus instead on how to effectively challenge and deter the anti-democratic, far-right tidal wave that currently threatens to submerge one of our country’s closest allies.