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Israel Police will ‘side with law’ in constitutional crisis, says police chief

"According to the law and the principles of democracy, the people go to the polls and whoever is elected should dictate policy, and everyone should act on it," says Israel's national security minister.

Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai speaks during a State Control Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 6, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai speaks during a State Control Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 6, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

In the event of a constitutional crisis, the Israel Police will be on the side of “law and justice,” Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai said on Wednesday.

Speaking during an induction ceremony for the new Lod police chief, Shabtai said, “I would like to make it clear in a way that is not ambiguous—the police have only one compass and that is the law and justice; as long as I am in command of it the law will decide and we will act only according to it.”

Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who spoke immediately after Shabtai, said that should a crisis break out between the legislative and judicial branches, it’s the lead of the legislative branch that the police should follow.

“Our police are apolitical. And according to the law and the principles of democracy, the people go to the polls and whoever is elected should dictate policy and everyone should act on it,” he said.

Legal observers have told JNS that Israel would face a constitutional crisis if Israel’s High Court strikes down the amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary passed by the Knesset on July 24.

The law limits the court’s use of the reasonableness standard as a legal justification to reverse government decisions.

As the court derives its authority from the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, Netanyahu’s government argues that the court does not have the authority to overrule them.

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, agrees, telling JNS last month, “The court has recognized Basic Laws as constitutional, even those passed without a broad consensus. If it strikes down a Basic Law, especially one dealing with its own jurisdiction, it means the court doesn’t get to just interpret the constitution, but also to decide what goes in it.”

Kontorovich said that striking down the law would give the court “absolute power of a kind unknown in Western democracies and trigger a fundamental constitutional crisis.”

Avi Bell, a professor of law at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and the University of San Diego, told JNS that Israel is already in the middle of a constitutional crisis, because the court has acted without legal restraint.

Any attempt to invalidate the “reasonableness law” would be illegitimate, he said.

“There is no power that the court has in law to strike down an amendment to a Basic Law. There is no statutory basis for the court doing so,” said Bell.

Aeyal Gross, a professor of international and constitutional law at Tel Aviv University, disagreed, telling JNS that the petitions against the amendment have merit. In his view, should the government fail to respect a court decision to strike down the amendment, “this would lead to a constitutional crisis.”

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