September 12, 2023 will go down in Israeli history. For the first time in its history, all fifteen justices of the Supreme Court met to discuss the Basic Law. Israel does not have a proper state constitution, but only a series of constitution-like basic laws. These can be easily changed.
The role of the Supreme Court is in jeopardy
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies from the far-right and extreme religious camp took advantage of this. They reformulated the basic law on the role of the judiciary in a way that eliminated the Supreme Court as a supervisory authority. Residents and organizations have complained about this. Their basic logic is that the government is working to change the “democratic character” of Israel. Government supporters question this and point to the court’s tendency to override laws passed by Parliament and thus ignore “the will of the people.”
For more than twelve hours, the judges heard the arguments of prosecutors and government lawyers. They asked critical questions. What if the government abolishes all constitutional laws and the court is unable to protect minorities? What if the government remains in power despite having to hold elections?
Dictatorship of majority government or dictatorship of judges
The court session was broadcast live. It showed how fragile “the only democracy in the Middle East” is. Since the founding of the State of Israel, the broad social consensus that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic” state has seemed sufficient. The consensus still exists today. But no longer everyone understands “Judaism” and “democracy” as the same thing.
Society, as elsewhere, has become increasingly polarized. The two poles want to impose Israel according to their ideas. Both sides fear dictatorship: either the dictatorship of majority government or the dictatorship of judges. The government announced before and during the court session that it would not follow the court if it did not decide in its favor. This statement alone shows how fragile democracy is in Israel.
Head of the foreign editorial department
Susan Brunner worked for SRF as a Middle East correspondent between 2018 and 2022. It originated in Canada, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland. I studied journalism in Ottawa. At SRF Radio she was first an editor and presenter on SRF Radio 3. Then she went to San Francisco as a correspondent, and after her return she became a correspondent in French-speaking Switzerland. She also moderated the program “Tagestalk” on SRF Radio 1. Susan Brunner also gained television experience on the program “10vor10”. Since September 2022, she has headed the foreign editorial team at SRF Radio.
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