Biden's shameful condemnation of Israel's democracy-enhancing judicial reform
At first glance, the judicial reform in Israel and the mass protests against it in that country have nothing to do with the United States. But U.S. president Joe Biden's condemnation of the proposed Israeli judicial reform because it is "undemocratic" and his refusal to invite Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House raise the question: does the U.S. president, the leader of the Democrat party, understand democracy in Israel and in his own country correctly?
The key question in Israel's controversial reform: Who should choose the judges of the Supreme Court in Israel? In Israel, since about 1992, there is a system whereby judges elect judges. This system is defined as follows:
Supreme Court Judges are appointed by the President of Israel, from names submitted by the Judicial Selection Committee, which is composed of nine members: three Supreme Court Judges (including the President of the Supreme Court), two cabinet ministers (one of them being the Minister of Justice), two Knesset members, and two representatives of the Israel Bar Association.
The president of Israel, unlike the President of the United States, is not a political figure. The two representatives of the bar vote the same as the judges, for they have no interest in clashing with the judges they meet during their tenure.
The fact that it takes a majority of 7 out of 9 to appoint judges means that judges and lawyers voting unanimously have veto power.
Since judges and lawyers are not elected by the people, this judicial system is not democratic in the full sense of the word. This leads to a system that can be called critocracy — in Greek, the rule by judges. (Critocracy was the system of rule by biblical judges in ancient Israel, before the establishment of a united monarchy under Saul.)
In Israel, the Supreme Court has been given the power to actively intervene in the reversal of political decisions. A large amount of power has been transferred to judicial control from the representative institutions of the democratic electorate.
The principle of the separation of powers in Israel has been violated, since the Supreme Court can decisively influence matters of national security, macroeconomic policy, fundamental issues of collective identity and state-building, the nature of the regime — in short, everything that was the prerogative of the legislative and executive branches of government in a democratic state.
This system of government assumes that everything is subject to judicial review and that judges are wiser and more responsible people than politicians.
Admirers of the decisive role of the Supreme Court of Israel believe that any limitation of judicial control would make the people vulnerable to an uncontrolled Knesset. But all disagreements between the legislature and the executive on the one hand and the court on the other are resolved in favor of the opinion of the court.
This belief in the court is based on the belief that the judiciary is less dangerous to the people because, unlike parliament and government, it has no money and no weapons. This belief is based on the prejudice that an elected politician is always less reliable than a disinterested judge who need not be re-elected.
P.M. Netanyahu's government wants to adopt a system of selecting judges more in keeping with the American model, which means politicians will be in charge. It's a key element of the coalition's judicial reform plan. The reform, which President Biden considers anti-democratic, is as follows: the commission will consist of 11 people. For the first time in the history of Israel, all three authorities will have equal representation: three judges, three ministers, and three members of the Knesset (the chairman of the Knesset and the chairman of the Constitutional Commission, both from the ruling coalition, and the chairman of the State Control Commission, from the opposition). The minister of justice will appoint two public figures as commission members. The majority required for the appointment of a judge will be a simple majority, not 7 out of 9. None of the authorities would have veto power.
In Israel, there have been massive protests against the limitation of the power of Supreme Court judges — i.e., against the government coalition's desire to put politicians on the judicial selection committee, which means a transition from a critocracy to a democracy of the type that exists in the United States.
Does Joe Biden, leader of the Democrat party, understand what democracy is?
Photo credit: YouTube screen grab.