West News Wire: Following the political upheaval in Israel caused by the “judicial reforms” put forth by the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussion has centered on how to save the country from disintegrating completely.
Israel now is, at best, a subpar democracy that is paralyzed and bound.
Many have cautioned that the incoming far-right government poses a threat to Israel’s “democratic” paradigm. Aharon Barak, a former chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, has called the government’s proposed judicial revamp a “coup without tanks” that might make Israel a “hollow democracy.”
Following a protracted public outcry, Netanyahu agreed to halt the proposal last month.
Digging deep into the roots of the Zionist doctrine upon which Israel was established, we can better understand what led to this point. Israel was founded in 1948 as a “Jewish state”, and deemed as such in the country’s Declaration of Independence. This principle was further enshrined in the 2018 Jewish nation-state law.
The 2018 law also established Hebrew as the official state language and the Hebrew calendar as the official state calendar, as well as declaring a “united Jerusalem” to be the capital of Israel.
One of Israel’s founding fathers’ early choices was not to create a constitution. Although the Declaration of Independence stipulated that a constitution should be adopted by October 1948, the Constituent Assembly was not elected until the following year, and it only met four times.
The assembly became the first Knesset in February 1949 after passing a transitional bill, and lawmakers were tasked with drafting the constitution.
The Harari plan, a compromise resolution that the Knesset accepted in June 1950 and which established a legislative committee to draft the constitution, was the result of ongoing discussion.
According to the plan, the constitution will consist of chapters, each of which will have a distinct basic legislation. As the Committee finishes its work, the chapters will be presented to the Knesset, and all of the chapters taken together will make up the state constitution.
However, this process was never completed, and the Knesset has since only passed 13 fundamental laws. What conclusions can be made from these years of debate?
The first is that Israeli Zionist political movements cross party lines in their denial of the character of the contemporary civil state. Many would contend that the state cannot be used as a tool of repression for a specific race, group of people, or religion. Such views run counter to the idea that the state is a sovereign form of governance whose first priority is the security and welfare of its people, regardless of their ethnicity or religious beliefs.
Second, rather than a political majority, Israel is governed by an ethnic majority. Israel is always committed to meeting the demands of its ethnic majority, regardless of electoral outcomes, but in other countries, like the US, the political majority changes following elections. The nation-state law only codified Israel’s preexisting oppressive and discriminatory practices.
Thirdly, because Israel is an occupying power, it lacks the legitimacy that the term “democratic system” confers and is acting in defiance of international norms and regulations.
The political system in a genuine democracy is typically restrained by a constitution or a political culture of constraint. In the case of Israel, neither holds true.
The essence of Israeli democracy is a topic that is beyond the scope of a single article, but a useful illustration can be found in the 2008 book Democracy in Shackles by the late Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni. Aloni emphasized the importance of upholding Israel’s democratic nature more so than its Jewish nature, and he listed numerous dangers to this paradigm, such as the emergence of far-right extremism.
She pointed out how Israel has failed to understand the genuine meaning of democracy and how the venom of religious zealots and settlers has poisoned the veins of the nation. Today, this warning resounds louder than ever.