srael’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly stated last week in a trip to Germany that Israel is and “will remain a liberal democracy,” according to The Time of Israel. This comment came while he was meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz after the prime minister rejected a watered down version of his judicial reform framework proposed by President Isaac Herzog , The Times reported.
On the evening of March 15, Herzog unveiled his “People’s Framework” proposal, urging both sides of the debate “not to destroy the country” in a power struggle over the judiciary, but rather seize the opportunity for “a formative constitutional moment.”
“We will have the same balance that exists in any other democracy” after the plan is implemented, Netanyahu argued in The Times story. He hit back against those depicting him as a “potentate who’s abolishing democracy and all this nonsense,” calling such charges “absurd” and “preposterous.”
The original judicial reform package would weaken the judiciary’s capacity to oversee the executive and legislative branches, while concentrating power in the hands of the coalition, according to those who are against it.
The series of initiatives include:
• An ‘override clause’ designed to curtail judicial review of legislation.
• Changes to the makeup of the judicial selection committee designed to ensure the government controls appointments to the bench.
• Cancellation of the “standard of extreme unreasonableness” utilized by the Supreme Court to intervene in executive orders.
• The transformation of ministerial legal advisors into political appointees.
Last week’s developments regarding the judiciary reform measures has concerned some residents of Riverdale enough for them to pen an open letter to the leadership of the Riverdale Jewish community, including the Riverdale Jewish Community Partnership that is convened by The Riverdale Y.
Here is that open letter. It is signed by Joel Chaiken, David Davar, Sue Ellen Dodell
Deborah Eiferman, Leah Ferster, Beverly Fettman, Ted Fettman, Daniel Guenzburger,
Deborah Johns, Helen Krim, Ariela Migdal, Harry Perkal, Elliott Rabin, Michelle Roos, Bart Schiavo, Deborah Schiavo, Yaakov Taitz, Graciela Wegsman and Ron Wegsman.
e are publicizing this with the full awareness that some individuals hostile to Israel will inevitably respond with baseless accusations against the Jewish State. We accept this as part of living in a free society. The danger to the freedom of our sisters and brothers in our people’s homeland is too great for us to be deterred by fear.
We are members of the Riverdale Jewish community. We have different synagogue affiliations, express our Jewishness in different ways, and have different political views. What we share is a deep love for Israel. Among us are people with close family or friendship ties to Israel, people who visit frequently, and even people with dual Israeli-American citizenship.
Today, we fear for the future of Israel. The judicial “reform” that the current Israeli government is trying to push through would give exclusive control of Israel’s courts to partisan politicians, and make it impossible for the court to overturn any law, no matter how undemocratic. If this “reform” is adopted, there will be nothing to stop the politicians from doing anything they want, up to and including limiting free speech and manipulating elections in such a way as to be no longer free and fair – just as has happened in other countries.
We believe that this represents an existential threat to a free State of Israel. If in the past Israel was in danger of being wiped out physically, today it is in danger of losing its freedom. But the result would be the same: Israel would no longer be a place where Jews can be free and sovereign in their own land.
We believe that supporting Israel today requires that we speak out and do everything in our power to prevent this. We are turning to you, the leaders of our community, with the heartfelt request that you stand up in Israel’s defense at this fateful time. The Israeli government cares what American Jews think, and Riverdale is an important part of the American Jewish community. Your voice, combined with the massive opposition within Israel, can help to preserve Israel’s freedom.
Opinion polls have found that the large majority of Israelis oppose the “reform.” As many as 400,000 people – some 4 percent of the country’s total population of 9 million, the equivalent of more than 13 million Americans – have been demonstrating against it in cities and towns all over the country for the past 10 weeks, with the numbers growing each week.
The opposition to the “reform” spans the ideological spectrum, from former Likud MKs like Limor Livnat, to retired military and intelligence officials, to opposition leaders as diverse as Gideon Saar and Merav Michaeli. Prominent American Jews such as Alan Dershowitz, the Trump Administration’s Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Miriam Adelson have spoken out against it.
The debate over the “reform” has divided Israel like never before – so much so that it threatens to affect Israel’s ability to defend itself from the many external threats it still faces. The President of Israel has called for the legislation to be stopped and instead for there to be negotiations that can lead to reforms that reflect a consensus of the society. (In Israel the president cannot veto legislation.)
The “reform” also threatens long-term American government and popular support for Israel. This support has been based on our two countries’ shared commitment to freedom and democracy. An Israel that is not a democracy will destroy the basis of the American commitment to its security – and will be a gift to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.
There are many different opinions in our community about the issues facing Israel. We are not asking you to express an opinion on any of these issues. We are asking only for a clear statement on something about which there should be a consensus: that Israel must be a country where Jews can be free, and that an independent judiciary is necessary for a free society; and in support of the President of Israel’s call for negotiations.
As Israel faces what many have called the most serious threat to its existence since the Yom Kippur War, we are looking to you, the leaders of our community, to stand up in defense of its freedom. You will have our full support and gratitude when you do.”