Israel’s Democratic Troubles Part 2


by Hope for Israel Staff Writer

This article is the second in a series entitled “Israel’s Democratic Troubles.” You can find the first article in the series here.

At the end of December 2022, the Israeli Knesset ratified the most far-right government in Israel’s history, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, and including an array of inflammatory personalities. The move raised cries of alarm from members of the public and from the international community.

If you’re wondering why, values taken for granted by Western nations aren’t necessarily explicit in the Israeli mentality. The pluralistic modern West has little experience with fundamentalism in the mainstream, while in Israel, extreme religious views are common. Additionally, Israel was a socialist country until the 1990s.

Speaking from an American point of view, conservative religious values and patriotism tend to go hand in hand with a belief in small government and personal responsibility. Although Americans are proud to be American, for them, individual success and triumph are more inspiring than collective success. The American “dream” is built on the concept that every human being has the right to personal self-determination.

In contrast, because of the perennial struggle to survive, the collective has historically mattered more than the personal for Israelis. They care very deeply about the nation as a whole, and see themselves almost as members of a tribe. Since Israel is by definition a Jewish state, Judaism has always been an intrinsic part of the state’s collective identity. For this reason, conservative family values and patriotic zeal tend to combine with religious fundamentalism and a belief in big government (which stems from economic collectivism). Over the last thirty years this has become more and more of a problem.

In summary, for Israelis, conservative values and personal freedoms do not necessarily go together, as odd as that might seem from a Western point of view.

However, this fundamental difference in mentality is quite logical from a historical perspective and is highlighted here not to say that one method is better than the other, but to provide a basis for understanding the current controversy.  

There are a few issues that are open for debate right now. We don’t know how many of these proposals will be codified into Israeli law, but it is nonetheless important to understand the relevant implications.

  1. The most concerning change on the table is the judiciary reforms proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, which would give “override” powers to the Knesset. With a simple majority of 61 seats, the Knesset (in actuality the government, since it by definition holds the Knesset majority) would have the power to overturn Supreme Court rulings. This would give almost complete legislative authority to the parties in power.

Among many reasons for his proposal is Levin’s belief that the Supreme Court itself has been politicized and wields too much power. While this might be true, it seems illogical to solve this problem by transferring that power to an even more politicized government body.

There must be rule of law in a functioning democracy. When the government is no longer subject to the law, the law becomes fluid and loses its meaning. Even given that one agrees with the current government, they will not be in power forever; it is certain that the opposition, whatever they say now, will take advantage of this kind of judicial reform as soon as they can. There is no going back once such a law has been put into place.

  1. Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem (including the Temple Mount) are also in the spotlight as the new government takes the reins. The Israeli right believes in Israel’s historical right to govern and settle Judea and Samaria, often known as “Israel’s heartland.” The area is home to both Arabs and Jews, although the international community generally recognizes it as the seat of the hypothetical Palestinian state. Many are concerned that the new government’s belief in the Jewish right to this land will lead them to draft unwise policy that could anger Israel’s allies who support the idea of a “two-state solution,” and potentially spark Palestinian violence.
  2. The third issue, and possibly one of the most serious, is that of government ministers holding criminal records. Most prominently, returning prime minister Netanyahu still has not stood trial for the corruption and bribery charges for which he was indicted nearly two years ago, during his last term in office.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri was twice convicted of tax fraud and served a two-year prison sentence. An additional sentence was suspended last year, and it is this “suspended sentence” loophole that initially allowed to receive a ministerial appointment.  As of this writing, the Supreme Court has ruled that Deri is unfit for office due to his criminal record. The result of this ruling is still undetermined; although it shows that the rule of law in Israel is alive and well, it could have negative impacts on the government’s stability.

  1. Particularly worrisome to minorities, including believers, is the religious parties’ call for a halachic state (a state run according to the rule of Jewish Law). While this extreme proposal is very unlikely to happen in its entirety, it is possible that legislation will move more in line with Jewish Law because of the new government’s policies.

This could include changes to eligibility for Israeli citizenship, including a proposal to remove the “Grandfather Clause” which allows children, grandchildren, and spouses of Jews to make Aliyah. Many are concerned that this move would damage Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewish communities.

  1. The last issue is exacerbated by the previous issues. Israel’s always-complicated diplomatic relationships are often affected significantly by Israeli government policy towards Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. Since many of the ministers in the new government hold extreme views in favor of settlement, their appointment to the government was opposed by the US and others of Israel’s allies, and has resulted in severe international condemnation. It is important to stress that the issue at hand is not one of rightness of policy, but of whether it is judicious to take this stance officially, when it could jeopardize international relationships.

In summary, the new government raises several red flags. Many proposed changes to Israel’s policies, both domestic and foreign, are on the table. Rumors are flying as the left uses this opportunity to feed fear in the Israeli public. Politicians from both sides of the aisle are pointing fingers and accusing each other of “threatening democracy.”

It is difficult to reach a conclusion at this stage. On the one hand, it is unpleasant to stand behind a government which has appointed convicted criminals to positions of power. (Although it was, of course, the Israeli public that elected Netanyahu himself.) It is also hard not to be somewhat concerned amidst the proposals to override independent judiciary review and to remove the Grandfather Clause.

However, two arguments remain in favor of the government.

Firstly, their hard-nosed stance against Palestinian terrorism could be what the Palestinian Authority needs to come to the negotiation table. Since Israel will always face censure, one could argue that it is in the interest of the Jewish State to ensure its own security and sovereignty, without reference to external actors.  In this case the real question is to what extent it is necessary to pander to international niceties when dealing with the UN and the Palestinians in order to keep the Americans on Israel’s side, and to what extent the new government will be willing to water down their rhetoric in order to play by these rules.

Secondly, as the previous installment of this analysis discussed more in depth, Israel needs a government right now. As long as the democratic fabric of the country is not explicitly being torn, one could still argue that stability is more important than politics for the time being.

In any case, this government is certainly a mixed bag, and it is unclear what its legacy will be.

Overall, it is still wiser to wait to draw conclusions until the government’s long-term policy becomes clearer. It is possible that all the accusations are unfounded, and that Israel will have a period of stability and national security. It is also possible that a period of controversial decisions and national turbulence is ahead of us.

It is surely important however for us to keep our eyes and our minds open to both possibilities, to remain hopeful, and to stand vigilant and zealous in prayer for the God’s Land and His people.

In part 3 I will look at the history of Israel’s governmental system, the definition and structure of its Basic Laws, and some issues that I see in the system which have brought us to the place we are now.

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2 Comments on “Israel’s Democratic Troubles Part 2”

  1. GOD likened Israel to a “silly dove”as they looked to Assyria and Egypt for there help. Several thousand years later it’s America and EU. When Israel realizes that there Only hope and help is from the HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL, will they be secure in the land that GOD gave Avraham.

  2. This is a very wise, clear, and straightforward explanation, without bias. Thank you for this piece.

    The one thing I would like to say is that “democracy” is widely lauded and widely misused and misunderstood. Democracy is actually not a good thing. It is the rule of the majority, without protections for minorities. A common example is “one sheep and two wolves deciding what’s for dinner.” Some call it “mob rule.” Rule not based on a foundation of law, but whatever the majority wants. There is no consistency as the whims of the majority can change or swing one way and then the other. There is no anchor.

    All of the points listed are serious concerns. Number 1 would eliminate the point of a Supreme Court. Why bother to have it if the legislative branch can override it?

    I look forward to the third installment. Thankfully I only have to wait one week. 🙂

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