J Street is deeply alarmed by the Israeli government’s radical plan to drastically undercut democracy and the rule of law in Israel by remaking the entire judicial system and reducing the power and independence of Israel’s Supreme Court. Like the over 80,000 Israeli protesters who publicly protested the plan this weekend in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, we believe it would severely harm Israel’s democratic character by neutering the only significant institutional check on the Knesset.
Under the plan unveiled by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn legislation will be intensely curtailed and, in cases in which the Court is able to strike down a law, the ruling coalition government would easily be able to override the Court’s ruling as long as a bare majority of Knesset members agree. If implemented, this plan will empower the government’s agenda to enact disastrous new policies over the Green Line, undercut the rights of women, LGBTQ+ and non-Orthodox Jewish Israelis, and carry out other anti-democratic measures.
The government would also assume control over the appointment of judges, including the Supreme Court president, counter to existing Israeli practice. Current Supreme Court President Esther Hayut has said that “This is a plan to crush the justice system. It is designed to deal a fatal blow to the independence of the judiciary and silence it” and that if the plan is implemented, “the country’s democratic identity [would be] dealt a fatal blow.”
We urge Congress and the Biden Administration to stand against the Netanyahu government’s efforts to undermine the independent judiciary and other key liberal democratic institutions and values. As the administration has rightly made the defense of democracy at home and abroad a key part of its agenda, it should act when one of our closest allies is pulled in an increasingly illiberal and ethno-nationalist direction by its right-wing leaders.
Further, it is vital to note the central role that American donors and funding have played in preparing the Justice Minister’s plan as well as other elements of the government’s far-right agenda. In-depth reporting has revealed that the infrastructure standing behind the settler movement and the new government is funded largely by American donors who received tax deductions in this country for their contributions. The harmful actions of these donors and their partners in Israel should be directly challenged by the leadership of the American Jewish community. Our community’s leaders should be doing all they can to support Israeli democracy, the democratic values at the heart of the US-Israel relationship, and the Israelis struggling to defend them.
Just as illiberal actors around the world are helping each other to undercut democracy, millions of Israelis worried about their country’s future deserve the solidarity and support of the United States government and pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy Americans.
For more information on the proposed judicial reforms and other actions by the new Netanyahu government, see the recent dossier prepared by the J Street Policy Center.