The real issue behind the opposition to judicial reform

Having lost the electorate, the Supreme Court ecosystem is the last holdout of the Israeli left.

Israeli students and teachers protest against planned judicial reforms in Tel Aviv on Feb. 5, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Israeli students and teachers protest against planned judicial reforms in Tel Aviv on Feb. 5, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Doron Spielman. Source: LinkedIn.
Doron Spielman

There is a simple but important line in the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that I think describes the conversation regarding judicial reform in Israel. When Indiana Jones realizes the Germans are looking for the Ark of the Covenant on the wrong mountain, one of the characters cries out: “They’re digging in the wrong place!”

Likewise, when trying to understand the opposition to Israeli justice reform, the sure sign that our attention is focused “in the wrong place” is the absence of logic in what we are seeing in front of us. How can it be that the Israeli left, the bastion that defines itself as “defending democracy,” could be so hysterical about the reform of an all-powerful, totalitarian judicial system—one that flies in the face of democratic values and that has no parallel in any other country in the entire world?

To understand what is really at play, we must reorient ourselves in order to see the true crux of the issue.

The answer lies in the left’s response to the gradual shifting of political attitudes in Israel since the Oslo Accords towards the right of the political map. Seeing that they were losing their elected influence on the country, the left created a closed ecosystem of left-wing values—one that was impervious to electoral changes—and inserted it into the very nerve center of the Israeli national structure. That closed ecosystem is the self-selecting Supreme Court we have in Israel today.

For decades, this ecosystem has maintained its power through its representatives, the “government legal advisors” that promulgate its values over all of the machinations of decision-making power in the country.

Having lost the electorate, the Supreme Court ecosystem is the last holdout of the Israeli left. Judicial reform, in any of the manifestations being considered by the coalition, is a direct threat to this eco-system that has been operating with such impunity over the past 30 years.

When trying to understand the hysteria that we are seeing in Israel today, this has to be understood not only in relation to “judicial reform,” but in terms of the dissolution of a powerful ecosystem that has enabled the will of a minority of the electorate to maintain its influence over the majority. While such a structure is certainly undemocratic, I am sure for those who have come to rely on it, losing this must be frightening. That is the crux of why people are scared, and this is the reason people are taking to the streets.

I believe that this is also why there is no true dialogue taking place on this issue. It has less to do with the specific details of the reforms themselves and more to do with the recognition that we are at a watershed moment of values in the country, one that is much more divisive.

For years, we have seen the country move to the right; however, the implications of this change were never fully expressed on the policies of the country due to the control exerted by the Supreme Court over so many areas. With judicial reform, this absolute control will be dismantled, and the reality of what this shift means will come to the fore.

No one on the right or the left knows what this will look like, only time will tell. While this may be unsettling for some and downright frightening for others, we need to allow for the will of the people to be expressed and to let go of power structures that have been preventing this from happening.

Doron Spielman is vice president of the City of David Foundation.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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