Herzog in the crosshairs

The idea that it’s possible at this juncture to conduct rational talks with hysteria-mongering judicial-reform rejectionists is tenuous, at best.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog attends the funeral of former Knesset Speaker Shevah Weiss at the Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, Feb. 5, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog attends the funeral of former Knesset Speaker Shevah Weiss at the Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, Feb. 5, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

In an op-ed on Friday in The Jerusalem Post, attorney Russell Avraham Shalev of the Kohelet Policy Forum explains what’s missing from Israeli President Isaac “Bougie” Herzog’s proposed judicial-reform compromise, despite its “many positive elements.”

“While Herzog sounded many of the right rhetorical points, [he didn’t] adequately address the central aim of the government’s reform legislation: putting an end to Israel’s juristocracy and restoring popular sovereignty,” writes Shalev, who goes on to describe how the Supreme Court has spent three decades expanding its powers, “without any legal or constitutional mandate,” causing an “ever-narrowing ability of [the country’s] citizens to rule themselves.”

Indeed, Shalev analogizes: “Like Napoleon grabbing the crown from the pope’s hands and placing it on his own head, the Supreme Court, under the leadership of its former president, Aharon Barak, seized the opportunity to crown itself emperor.”

Though he commends Herzog for “underscore[ing] the legitimacy of the democratically elected government to pursue its policies”—and for “recogniz[ing] that [its] reform proposals stem from the Supreme Court’s imperialism and breach of Israel’s traditional balance of powers”—he lists three points that the president’s suggested compromise leaves too vague and must include.

The first relates to the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee and the removal of the judges’ veto. The second has to do with the procedure for legislating Basic Laws. The third involves the issue of “‘reasonableness,’ [by] virtue of [which] the court determines political appointments, makes policy decisions … and even determines who can serve in or lead the government.”

He concludes by urging supporters of judicial reform to “heed the president’s call for negotiations,” but stresses that “any resolution must be based on the citizens’ right to decide how to govern themselves. Otherwise, Israel will continue to be ruled by philosopher-kings in judges’ cloaks.”

Shalev’s defense of judicial reform is spot-on. The idea that it’s possible at this juncture to conduct rational talks with hysteria-mongering rejectionists, however, is tenuous, at best.

Just look at the puerile behavior of opposition MKs at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee session on Monday morning. Instead of expressing their reservations about and offering alternatives to the first judicial-reform bills up for a vote—something they refused to do in the several weeks leading up to it—they drowned out remarks by Committee chair MK Simcha Rothman with cries of “shame! Disgrace!”

They also stomped and sang “Ein Li Eretz Aheret” (“I Have No Other Country”). The popular Hebrew song from 1986 is about why Israelis are willing to fight when forced repeatedly into battle by hostile neighbors bent on annihilating the Jewish state.

The connotation was obvious: that the ruling right-wing coalition in Jerusalem is the enemy of the populace, rather than the people’s choice. As if this weren’t an outrageous enough display of chutzpah, MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu, from opposition leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party,  jumped onto and over the table, lunging at Rothman while berating him.

Neither this spectacle, nor the carry-on of protesters surrounding the parliament building, prevented the first judicial-reform bills (amendments to the Basic Law: The Judiciary, and changes to judicial selection) from passing in committee. They’re slated to undergo the first of three readings in the Knesset on Feb. 20.

In honor of the event, organizers of the protest movement—financed by the New Israel Fund and other foreign left-wing NGOs—have declared a “national day of struggle.” The title’s in keeping with the violent language that’s become a feature of the misnamed “save democracy” demonstrations.

Yes, incitement’s been a key tool for the leaders of and participants in the anti-government hate-fests. Among these figures—all of whom make no bones about loathing Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu—are Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.

Less-known activists are war heroes engaging in and preparing for figurative, if not literal, internecine combat. Take the Yom Kippur War veterans, for instance, who on Thursday stole an old tank and a personnel carrier deployed during the 1973 fighting (now monuments in northern Israel) to use as a rallying cry. The fact that they draped the vehicles with an English-language banner reading “defending Israel’s Declaration of Independence,” speaks volumes about their backers and target audience.

If any doubt remained about whether judicial reform is really at the root of the demonstrations, it was put to rest on Saturday night by a Channel 12 report. According to the network’s “Weekend News” program, protest leaders are pressuring Lapid and Blue and White Party chairman Benny Gantz to reject Herzog’s proposal, even if the legislation in question is frozen.

To drive the travesty home, the radical “anybody but Bibi” crew—who spent the better part of the pandemic years partying outside of Netanyahu’s official residence waving “Crime Minister” signs and flaunting pornographic depictions of his spouse, Sara—are directing their vitriol at Herzog.

“Don’t make me have to start a group called ‘the siege on Bougie,’” one of them shouted into a cordless microphone. “You won’t see day and you won’t see night … the way we treated Sara is the way we’ll treat your wife!”

That’s what Herzog, a former head of the left-wing Labor Party, gets for daring to respect Israel’s democratic process. He’d be better off taking Shalev’s advice about the essential aspects of the reforms—or dropping the whole futile project altogether and protecting his family from the mob of elitist barbarians.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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