The controversy over Israel’s attempt at judicial reform has produced some strange bedfellows.
Proponents of reform include, of course, the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Likud has been in power on and off for much of the past two decades. Yet it has never sought to tackle the issue of judicial overreach before. Many believe Netanyahu has been dragged to the party by his religious coalition partners.
Opposition to the reforms is more amorphous and diverse, as well as less well-defined. There are those who are ideologically opposed to restricting the power of the Supreme Court because they see it as a needed check on the inevitable tyranny of the majority that the current government represents. They also may be acting out of an anti-populist fear of the ruling coalition.
The majority of protesters probably see the proposed reforms as a nefarious scheme on the part of the prime minister. Their opposition is more political than ideological. Witness, for example, figures like Gideon Sa’ar, Avigdor Lieberman and even Yair Lapid, who have previously expressed support for judicial reform. But they are prepared to fight tooth and nail against any reforms that might somehow benefit Netanyahu.
Apropos of this, consider the protests. They have been deeply personal, concentrating on demonizing the prime minister rather than addressing the reforms themselves. How does blocking Ben-Gurion Airport or shutting down the Ayalon Freeway help advance the idea of protecting democracy by leaving the Supreme Court untouched and unimpeded? It doesn’t.
However, it does contribute to the sense that the government is vulnerable and teetering, and with a few more pushes, pulls and pressure, could be brought down. These are the imported tactics of the anti-Trump “resistance” and Antifa.
The irony is that, in taking this stance, opponents of the reform, knowingly or otherwise, have chosen to support and seek to replicate the Iranian model for national governance.
In Iran, which of course depicts itself as a democracy, there are elections and there is a government that, on paper, sounds remarkably similar to other democracies. The president is directly elected and there is a bicameral legislature and independent judiciary.
None of this matters all that much, however, because Iran’s Supreme Leader holds ultimate and absolute power.
With its arrogation of power to itself and willingness to exercise unlimited discretion based on the reasonableness doctrine, which allows it to challenge any and all laws, the Israeli Supreme Court wields influence and enjoys a lack of accountability remarkably similar to that of Iran’s Supreme Leader.
The only real practical difference is that the Supreme Leader can count on the support of the Republican Guards, a highly religious and powerful private army. There is muscle behind the “what I say goes” posture of the Supreme Leader.
By contrast, the Israeli Supreme Court has no army in its back pocket. What it does have is the allegiance to democratic processes that characterizes a well-developed liberal democracy such as Israel. In other words, the Supreme Court can count on Israeli citizens’ fealty to democracy to buttress the Court’s oligarchical rule.
This, of course, is a perversion of democracy. The Court is counting on Israeli citizens, most especially Israel’s version of the “deplorables” in America—the silent majority that picked a right-wing coalition to run the government—to be quiet, acquiescent and cooperative in retaining a body that knows better than them how to structure and run the country.
For the protesters, there is a strong sense that the Court might be the antidote to Netanyahu and could so constrain the government as to render it a political eunuch. The Court is therefore part of the “anybody but Bibi” resistance and must be protected at all costs.
This has little if anything to do with checks and balances and the proper role of the Court in a fair and functioning democracy.
What it has to do with is power. The same political mindset that seeks to pack the U.S. Supreme Court and eviscerate conservative justices is motivating Israeli protesters to blockade the airport and chant weekly outside the prime minister’s residence.
The anti-Netanyahu crowd is willing to tolerate, indeed seeks to enshrine, a system of government remarkably similar to the Iranian theocracy in order to maintain left-wing control of Israel, and above all to destroy once and for all the political vampire that is Netanyahu.
For the protesters, a secular theocracy is preferable to a functioning democracy that happens to be headed by someone they despise.
Douglas Altabef is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu, Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization, and a director of B’yadenu and the Israel Independence Fund.