To Coup or Not to Coup? That is the Question The coming battle-royal between the 'regime change' government and Supreme Court
Israel stands on the brink of a legislative coup. It has already given final passage to a bill which would legalize five settlements. The most prominent, Homesh, is built on land stolen from the Palestinian villages of Burka and Silat al-Dhahr. Israeli governments going back to Ariel Sharon’s in 2005 had agreed not to permit settlers to live there. As a result of this violation, the State Department took the extraordinary step of summoning the Israeli ambassador for as close to a dressing-down as a government beholden to the Israel Lobby can muster.
Coming up: final votes on the “judicial reform” package which would eviscerate both the Supreme Court and attorney general. They would virtually eliminate the Court’s ability to review legislation it determines Israeli Basic Law. In the event the court ruled against such a bill, the Knesset could override the ruling by a majority vote. In addition, the attorney general would no longer review legislation to ensure it adhered to the Basic Laws. The legal advisors for each ministry would also no longer be appointed independently according to civil service protocols, but by the minister instead. This would lead to ministers being unaccountable for regulations enacted.
These and many other legislative proposals would, as I’ve written here, turn Israel into a state of mafia clans marking out their turf and exploiting it for maximum financial reward.
What will be the outcome of this battle-royal between the prime minister’s ruling coalition, and the arms of government they are attempting to overthrow? There have been attempts at compromise made by the president and others. However, the radical libertarian element of the coalition, which is heavily funded and inspired by the US Tikvah fund (think a pro-Israel version of the Koch Brothers), is holding fast and refusing to compromise. If it continues along this route, it will certainly succeed in passing its legislative plan.
But almost certainly, the Supreme Court will rule all, or parts of it in violation of the Basic Laws. The attorney general, who has already made several rulings damaging to Netanyahu in light of his corruption trial, will also likely render an adverse verdict. Many in the media claim this will set off a “constitutional crisis.” Actually, Israel has no constitution (but that’s a discussion for another time). That’s not quite true. The Knesset can legislate all it wants. But rulings by the AG and Court trump the Knesset. And it will have no recourse but to obey.
Netanyahu, despite being encircled by extremist True Believers willing to march off a cliff to uphold their ideology, has been known to back down or compromise when driven into a corner. And these two powerful state institutions will likely put him there. In which case, either the coalition agenda falls apart or Netanyahu comes to the table to make a deal. Another option would be for the government to collapse and lead to new elections.
The other wild card in this scenario is the people themselves. Millions have protested for eleven weeks running against what they call the “regime change government.” Though such mass movements generally have a short shelf-life in Israeli politics, if they held fast to their rejection of the Netanyahu agenda, it could stiffen the spine of the Opposition in terms of its willingness to compromise.
Another longer-term option for the coup plotters is that they engage in a tactical withdrawal, while planning a strategic takeover of the Court and justice system. If they appoint all the upcoming Supreme Court judges and lower court jurists, eventually they will have a pliant Court which will do their bidding. And if they appoint an attorney general who will acquiesce to the putschists and agree to their diktat, then there will no longer be an independent judiciary or legal system.
Israel will then become a Middle Eastern version of Hungary, in which the judicial, media and education systems have all been captured by right-wingers and emptied of any former independence or vitality.