Israel just passed the first reading of the Reasonableness Standard Bill in the Knesset, advancing the first stages of judicial reform. In response, the Biden administration called on Israel to “respect the right of peaceful assembly” after saying that they are trying to keep Israel from going off the rails.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets to demonstrate. They blocked roads across Israel and demonstrated at the Ben-Gurion Airport and additional locations on Tuesday, calling it a “Day of Resistance” and “Disturbance”. In Herzliya, the protesters, or as some are calling them, anarchists, set up tents and burned tires in the middle of the HaSira junction. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of a court in Haifa and in Rehovot, around 2,500 protestors gathered at the Park junction. Additional protests were also planned throughout the day in dozens of other cities, towns, and junctions.
These protesters claim they are protesting for democracy but the judicial reform is actually pushing democracy forward, so the question is, why are they protesting?
What is Judicial Reform?
Here’s a quick recap of the judicial reform that is being considered in the Knesset right now:
The Judicial Reform plan aims to curb the Supreme Court’s influence and authority over lawmaking and public policy. As it is set up now, the Supreme Court has basically no checks and balances, even down to being able to repeal basic laws which is Israel’s version of a constitution.
The Judicial Reform plan is composed of a few main parts:
The first proposal is a bill that would change the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee (or JSC), which has the authority to appoint, promote, and remove Supreme Court Judges. Right now the JSC is composed of 9 members: the Minister of Justice and an additional government minister, the President of the Supreme Court and two additional Supreme Court judges, two representatives of the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), and two representatives of the Israeli Bar Association.
Over the years, many Israeli politicians have criticized what they call the “friend brings a friend” cycle, claiming that current judges have too much influence in the selection of new members of the court and in essence are able to “appoint themselves” or at least easily veto any candidates they want to.
Owing to this, the reform bill proposes to change the selection committee in a way that would give the government a permanent majority in the JSC and thereby more control over the selection of future judges.
Knesset Override Clause of the Judicial Reform
Another issue is that of Knesset Override. The proposed changes would allow the Knesset to overrule a decision made by the supreme court with a simple majority (61 out of 120 members). Even though the protests against Judicial Reform claim that the reforms would, in their words, end democracy in Israel, in my view all of the reforms, and this one specifically, are aimed at taking power from a small group of unelected and virtually unaccountable elites and returning it to the Knesset which is directly voted in by the people. In effect giving the people more say in the government, which is the whole point of democracy, right?
One of the more controversial, and yet in my opinion, one of the most important issues is the issue of judicial review and the reasonableness standard. Under Israel’s current governmental system, all legislation, government orders, and administrative actions are subject to judicial review by the supreme court. Which can strike down any legislation and reverse any executive orders it deems in violation of Israel’s Basic Laws. Pair this with the “reasonableness standard” which allows the court to judge a case based on its “unreasonableness” (whatever that is supposed to mean) and you’ve got a prime recipe for judicial supremacy and (dare I say it?) dictatorship. Not to mention the fact that the supreme court, for pretty much all its history, has been full of left-wing oligarchs hell-bent on pushing a liberal ideology and agenda.
Now although all these proposals (along with a few others that we didn’t have time to get into) sound pretty reasonable, it hasn’t stopped the left from staging massive protests across the state of Israel. We actually did a show back in March where we went down and visited one of the protests in Tel Aviv asking people if they knew what they were protesting about (spoiler alert: most had no clue what the reforms entailed and were either there for other “social justice” causes like “ending the ‘illegal occupation'” (we even saw a communist flag!) or had some vague notion of a danger to democracy and anti-Netanyahu sentiments)
Alright so these protests have been going on for months, so what was the reason for calling a “day of resistance or ‘disturbance'” yesterday? Well, Israel just passed the first reading of the Reasonableness Standard Bill in the Knesset, advancing the first stages of judicial reform. I think the protesters are scared that the left will lose the power that they now hold.
The Jerusalem Posts’ definition of the reasonableness standard bill is, “an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, that would block Israel’s courts from applying what is known as the “reasonableness standard” to decisions made by elected officials. The reasonableness standard is a common law doctrine that allows for judicial review against government administrative decisions that are deemed beyond the scope of what a responsible and reasonable authority would undertake.”
Multiple Protesters Arrested
Throughout the protests yesterday, the police arrested a total of 73 people, not for protesting, because that is a basic right that everyone has, but because they were violating public order. Blocking highways and trying to shut down the airport is crossing the line of their right to protest. As of this report, 45 of the protesters have already been released. Overall, the police did a great job keeping the protests under control and not allowing the country to shut down. There were several clashes with the police when the protesters attempted to block the highway.
One protester went too far by using his baby as a prop and sticking her in the middle of the road as part of the protest. This is not okay, using your baby as a prop to push forward your political agenda is not cool.
The Biden Administration’s Response
After they heard that the police had arrested dozens of protesters, the White House called on Israel to “respect the right of peaceful assembly.” A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said, “We urge authorities to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly,” “It is clear there is significant debate and discussion in Israel on the proposed plan. Such debates are a healthy part of a vibrant democracy.” The spokesperson called for an agreed upon solution regarding the judicial reform. Wow, pure brilliance.
This came after the outgoing US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides told the Wall Street Journal that the Biden administration is trying to stop Israel from “going off the rails” with the overhaul of its judicial system.
He said, “I think most Israelis want the United States to be in their business,” “With that sometimes comes a modicum of a price, which is articulating when we think things are going off the rails.”
“One of the messages I sent to the prime minister was to tap the brakes, slow down, try to get consensus.”
When asked about what part of the judicial reform legislation the Biden administration is concerned about, he couldn’t say which part. So basically, they’re not sure why the judicial reform is a bad thing, they just know it is.
Ron DeSantis had a great response to Thomas Nides’ comments. He said this on Twitter:
How disrespectful for the U.S. Ambassador to Israel to falsely claim ‘most Israelis want the United States to be in their business.’ Biden meets with dictators of countries such as Venezuela but snubs the democratically elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is not how you should treat an ally.