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Why Netanyahu's judicial reform is better than its reputation

France's president had just passed his pension reform through parliament.

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Why Netanyahu's judicial reform is better than its reputation

France's president had just passed his pension reform through parliament. The governing coalition in Germany had pushed through a parliamentary reform that could rob the Left Party and CSU of their parliamentary group rights. And what was the demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate against? Against judicial reform in Israel.

Many of the demonstrators who demonstrated in Berlin against the alleged abolition of democracy in Israel were Israelis with German passports who - Zionism or not - live here temporarily or permanently. Like the majority of those protesting in Israeli cities, primarily Tel Aviv, against the judicial reforms of Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing governing coalition, they tend to be left-liberal, non-religious or not strictly religious.

They belong to the group of Jews from Europe who created and shaped the state of Israel in the 20th century. And the anger and fear of these demonstrators have to do above all with the feeling that they can no longer shape the country or not for much longer.

Because Netanyahu's reform may be problematic in parts; it does not mean an abolition of democracy. In a way, it even strengthens democracy, if one understands it to be the rule of the freely elected representatives of the people. For example, representatives of parliament are to be given a greater say in the election of members of the Supreme Court than before, when the court was more or less autocratically able to recruit new members itself.

In the US, the “Supremes”, the judges on the Supreme Court, are even selected by the President and confirmed by the Senate. In Britain, they are appointed by the king on the proposal of the prime minister. In Germany, the judge selection committee for the Federal Constitutional Court consists of the 16 state justice ministers and 16 members appointed by the Bundestag. The separation of powers is by no means absolute here either.

Netanyahu also wants to give parliament the right to overrule decisions of the Supreme Court. A simple majority should suffice. However, the fact that the same majority that passed a law can also enforce the law against the court's objection is problematic.

Because democracy – the rule of the majority – needs to be encircled by the rule of law, by the constitution, laws and the judiciary, if it is not to degenerate into the oppression of the minority, as was the case with the parliamentary reforms of the German governing coalition. There are different models for this enclosure. Let's compare Israel with Great Britain, the former mandatory power. Both countries manage without a written constitution. There is also no second chamber of parliament in Israel.

In Britain there is, but the House of Lords is unelected and is made up of people who hold seats by virtue of office – like some archbishops of the state church, but also the “Chief Rabbi” – or because they have obliged previous governments.

In the early years of Israel there was no Supreme Court. The UK has only had this since 2003. In Israel, the Supreme Court can overturn laws it deems inconsistent with the country's legal principles. In Britain, where the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty applies, the Supreme Court is not allowed to do that. One may think British democracy odd, but no one suggests that Britain is not a democracy.

The specific provisions of the reform are less the cause of the anger of the Israeli demonstrators. The Supreme Court is one of the last bastions of the country's secular elite. Therefore, it becomes the flag around which this frightened elite is rallying. Israel's demographics are changing rapidly.

More than 20 percent of the population are Arabs - with all civil rights. Among the Jews, the Haredim – the so-called ultra-Orthodox – form the fastest growing group. Among the Haredim, a woman has an average of 7.1 children; the average in Israel including Arabs is 2.9 children per woman.

The number of Haredim is doubling every five years and will be almost as large as that of the Arabs by the end of this decade, even making up the majority of the population by the end of the century.

Among the non-religious or not strictly religious Jews, on the other hand, there are cultural and political differences between Jews who were expelled from Arab countries – such as Morocco, Iraq or Yemen – or who came from Ethiopia and Jews with European roots.

Again, there are differences between immigrants from the former Soviet Union, including newcomers from Ukraine and Russia, and descendants of the left-wing Zionist majority who created the state. The AfD, which likes to peddle its support for Israel, ignores the colorful character of Israeli society, as do those on the left who see Israel as a “white settler state”.

Netanyahu's coalition takes into account the colorful character of Israeli society by including parties from the religious right. The real problem is that the still moderate center of Israeli society, including the Arab parties, is unable to achieve a parliamentary majority.

But what all Germans must realize is this: Zionism is the doctrine that the Jews need their own state. Not just the Jews, whose absence in Germany is loudly and hypocritically lamented at every memorial event; not just the assimilated and cultured jerks, but the Jews, period. It was easy, except for some far-right and far-left ideologues, to love an Israel seemingly made up of people like us, like Daniel Barenboim or Avi Primor.

But is Israel's security still part of the German reason of state, when a large part of the population has more to do with the culture of the shtetl than with Heinrich Heine, more with the traditions of the Arab world than with those of the West, when the Jewish state, in short and well, less European will? It has to and should, because demographics are inexorable and the disputes over judicial reform are just the beginning.

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