The battle in Israel over the judiciary

The Jerusalem Post reported:

Prime Minister Netanyahu Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday evening that he was temporarily freezing the bill that would alter the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee and was willing to give a “real opportunity to real dialogue” over the government’s judicial reforms, which have thrown the country into turmoil and unprecedented civil unrest.

I’ve been following this issue with interest because what Netanyahu has proposed is pretty much the status quo in New Zealand, so have been bemused by why it has caused such huge division. It might be because it is him proposing it, and that he is facing trial himself – which is a bad look.

But I was surprised by how anti-democratic the status quo is.

In New Zealand every Judge is appointed by the Government of the Day. The Attorney-General or Prime Minister appoints them. In Israel they are appointed by a nine member committee that has two Ministers on it, two MPs (one Govt/one Oppn), three Supreme Court Judges and two lawyers from the Bar Association. So the judiciary and legal profession have the majority on the committee and can appoint judges against the wishes of the Government. The Government basically has little say in who is appointed.

Now for the last 30 years or so, the public have voted for centre-right Governments. But the legal profession and judiciary are fairly heavily centre-left. So for the left, the judiciary is their one remaining source of power, while to the right the judiciary is a self-appointing elite out of touch with the country. Hence the conflict.

Now this would not be as big an issue if the judiciary merely interpreted laws made by the Knesset. But despite the fact there is no written constitution, the judiciary gave itself the power to strike down laws that it regards as incompatible with what are called the basic laws.

Finally you have the odd situation of the Attorney-General of Israel. Despite the name, they are not a democratically elected person. In Israel the role is almost a merger of both Attorney-General and Solictor-General. They head up the legal system and are the sole advisor to the Government. Their decisions are binding on the entire Government. Recently they blocked the National Security Minister from sacking a regional police chief. The AG can decide not to defend the Government in court. This role is incredibly powerful and appointed for a six year term so one Government can appoint someone who will have power over the next Government.

There are arguments for and against the status quo, but it is a very unusual arrangement.

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