The Battle for Israel’s Courts

9 May 2018

A battle for the future of Israel is looming, with the government attempting to limit the powers of the High Court.

But many Israelis and supporters of Israel don’t know much about the override bill, that many would say will cause Israel irreparable damage. The bill was approved by the Cabinet on Sunday and must now be approved by the Knesset to become law.

The following Q&A with Hovav Yanai, Shatil Advocacy Specialist, will shine light on the matter.

Hovav, 33, is an advocacy expert in Shatil’s Center for Policy Change. He works at the local and national level to influence policies that affect the social, economic, and human rights landscape. Hovav says he is motivated to do his work for “the good of Israeli society.”

What exactly is the override bill?
It’s a code name for a bill that would prevent the High Court from striking down laws the Knesset passes that harm human rights in Israel.

Why is it dangerous?
If this bill becomes law, the Knesset can harm with impunity the rights of any individual or group, be it women, Haredim, asylum seekers, workers, Arab Israelis, the LGBTQ community, or others. It can limit basic democratic rights such as the rights of assembly, free speech, and protest. The role of the High Court in upholding our Basic Laws will be greatly harmed. Politicians will have unlimited power and the system of checks and balances that is critical to any democracy will no longer exist. In a parliamentary system like ours, the only body that curbs the government, which in turn controls the Knesset, is the High Court. It ensures that politicians won’t have unlimited power.

Who would be most harmed if this bill becomes law?
We tend to think that the weakest populations would be harmed, but the fact is, it will harm all of us. When we examine the few laws in which the High Court has intervened, we see that they protected large segments of the population including soldiers, welfare recipients, refugees, former Gush Katif residents, prisoners, and others. And it will harm the rule of law and our democracy.

Isn’t it more democratic to have the people’s elected officials have the last word?
Majority rule isn’t the only principle in a democracy. A healthy democracy has a checks and balances infrastructure that prevents a temporary majority from turning majority rule into tyranny. Moreover, the decisions of the majority must abide by the criteria that the majority itself decided on, for example, the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty. It can’t legislate laws that oppose the Basic Laws. The idea that the power of the majority should be an unlimited power goes against the very essence of democracy.

What is Shatil doing about this bill?
We’re doing what we always do: We are organizing coalitions and collaborations between different organizations that work on the issue and promoting policies in line with the values we share. Together, we develop and implement a shared strategy.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons