Opinion

Thomas Friedman does not have the last word on Israel

Israeli judicial reform isn't about “ultranationalist and ultrareligious” ideology, but fighting judicial overreach.

“New York Times” writer and author Thomas L. Friedman at the World Economic Forum in 2013. Credit: World Economic Forum.
“New York Times” writer and author Thomas L. Friedman at the World Economic Forum in 2013. Credit: World Economic Forum.
(Twitter)
Joseph Frager
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.

On Feb. 13, 2023, Thomas L. Friedman penned a New York Times opinion piece entitled, “Biden’s 46 Words About Israel at a Critical Moment,” which attacked the current Israeli government’s campaign for judicial reform.

I remember the days when William Safire and A.M. Rosenthal ruled the roost at The New York Times. They were titans and their words resonated the world over. Democracy is not the same without them.

Thomas L. Friedman has never come close to their stature.

Israel has changed dramatically over the past 75 years. It has become more observant and more invested in the upbuilding of Judea and Samaria. Friedman and his followers have not caught up with this change.

The present governing coalition of Israel is representative of the majority of Israelis. It is the wave of the future. But it is difficult for the left to get used to this new reality. The Thomas Friedmans of the world cannot grasp the sea change that has taken place.

Friedman calls Netanyahu’s coalition “ultranationalist and ultrareligious.” This is far from the truth. They are the best and brightest Israel has produced and representative of the majority of Israelis. They are true visionaries looking out for Israel’s future. Left-controlled media outlets would like you to think otherwise, but the demographics speak for themselves. Unlike Israelis on the left who are having one child per family, Israelis on the right are having five or more children per family. The left does not want to face this reality.

The Israeli Supreme Court has become the personal bodyguard of the left. It has assumed powers that would make even David Ben-Gurion cringe.

Friedman’s attack on judicial reform in Israel fails to point out how vastly different Israel’s Supreme Court is from America’s. The former is not appointed by a democratically elected government. It is internally controlled and thus perpetuates its ideology through, to borrow a cliché, “an old boys club.”

In America, the president picks a potential Supreme Court justice and the Senate can either accept or reject them. President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork in 1987 is a paradigmatic example of this. Bork was a brilliant judge who became the last nomination to the Court to be rejected by the Senate. The Judiciary Committee rejected him in a 9-5 vote and the full Senate by 58-42.

As much as I might disagree with the rejection of Bork, it was done through a democratic process. Bork would have been one of the Supreme Court’s greatest justices, but a democratic verdict must be accepted.

However, no such process exists in Israel. Democratically elected leaders have no say as to who sits on the Israeli Supreme Court. This is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting.

For 28 years, one man held sway over the Israeli Supreme Court. His name is Aharon Barak. Interestingly, Bork himself said that Barak “establishes a world record for judicial hubris.” Among Barak’s precedents was that judges cannot be removed by the Knesset, but only by other judges. Much of today’s controversy over judicial reform stems from the despotic measures Barak enacted.

Israel will figure out what changes to the judicial system are needed and the pace of those changes. Of course, compromises will be made, as they are in all democracies. But one thing is certain: Thomas Friedman does not have the last word on Israel.

Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage 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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