By Menachem Wecker and David Swindle
The American Jewish Committee referred to the democratically passed law as “pushed through” the Israeli legislature.
(JULY 24, 2023 / JNS) The same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was released from the hospital after pacemaker surgery, the Knesset passed a key piece of the coalition’s judicial reform legislation on Monday. The law bars judges from using “reasonableness” as the standard with which to reverse laws passed by elected officials.
Sam Markstein, national political director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told JNS that the group joins David Friedman, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, in “hoping and praying that efforts continue—and succeed—to find a consensus.”
“Like other Jewish Americans, Jewish Republicans have varying views about Israel’s difficult judicial reform debate,” Markstein told JNS. “But we’ve been consistent in saying that Americans should respect Israel’s sovereign right to set its own course through its own democratic institutions.”
Mort Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, told JNS that ZOA “strongly supports and praises Israel for ending the unelected Supreme Court’s regular use of abrogating a Knesset-passed law by merely claiming that they believe the law is ‘unreasonable.’”
Klein said such a standard is subjective. “What’s ‘unreasonable’ to one is ‘reasonable’ to another. There is no criteria as to how to judge ‘reasonableness’ — it’s simply the judge’s personal opinion and worldview,” he said. “This is an absurd basis and power the Supreme Court has arrogated to itself, which is nothing short of judicial tyranny and judicial dictatorship.”
Klein told JNS that the bill’s passage “made the judicial system more democratic, not less democratic, by putting back power in the hands of elected officials accountable to the people and out of the hands of unelected judges.”
Mitchell Bard, executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, told JNS that elections have consequences. “Netanyahu won, and it was democratic for his government to fulfill the promises to its constituents,” he said.
“The decision to pass a law that fundamentally changes the balance of power without a consensus may have a profoundly negative impact on Israel’s economy, military, unity and international standing,” Bard added. “The vote on the ‘reasonableness standard’ now sets up a potential confrontation with the Supreme Court that could force Israelis to choose between obeying their elected government and their unelected judges.”
Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, told JNS that the OU isn’t focusing on the past, but on the “present and future cohesion of the State of Israel, its citizens and Jews around the world.”
“Responsible voices on all sides of the aisle and the ocean must calmly, humbly and firmly step forward and do everything in their power to restore calm and to rebuild unity within the Jewish family,” he said. “We have absolute confidence in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, but as we prepare for the Fast of the Ninth of Av, we worry deeply that we have not learned the lessons of our painful history.”
“We must remember the dangers that discord and division can pose to the Jewish people,” stated Harriet Schleifer and William Daroff, chair and CEO respectively, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We call on Israel’s leaders to seek compromise and unity. Responsible political actors must ease tensions that have run dangerously high.”
Many other U.S. Jewish organizations that have criticized judicial reform condemned the new law.
The American Jewish Committee stated its “profound disappointment” with the law, which it stated “was pushed through unilaterally by the governing coalition amid deepening divisions in Israeli society as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets.”
The AJC expressed “particular concern” given the fact that the law “has sown discord within the Israeli Defense Forces at a time of elevated threats to the Jewish homeland and has strained the vital relationship between Israel and diaspora Jewry.”
“Many Israelis” agree that some judicial reform is appropriate, the AJC noted, though it “has consistently maintained that reform to the institutions core to Israeli democracy should only be adopted on the basis of the broadest possible consensus.”
In June 2022, the AJC used the same phrase, “profound disappointment,” describing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. “We must guard against future efforts to undermine other hard-fought civil liberties,” the AJC stated at the time. “The court has sent an ominous signal that we cannot take these freedoms for granted.”
AJC did not respond to JNS questions about how its opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court decision took into account the “broadest possible consensus” and how it differed from the kind of action for which it is criticizing the Israeli judiciary.
The Jewish Federations of North America stated that it is “deeply pained over the growing polarization we have witnessed in Israeli society as a result of the judicial reform process.” It added that it is “extremely disappointed” that coalition leaders “moved ahead with a major element of the reforms without a process of consensus, despite the serious disagreements across Israeli society and the efforts of President Herzog to arrive at a compromise.”
The Anti-Defamation League stated that it is “deeply disappointed that the Israeli government passed the controversial Reasonableness Bill, failing to heed the call of President Herzog and others to reach a compromise rooted in a broad societal consensus.”
Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism stated their “profound consternation” at the passage of the law, which they stated “sharply curtails the ability of the country’s courts to review government decisions.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America also issued a statement condemning the passage of the Israeli law, which it “strongly opposes.”
“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing attempts to erode Israel’s democracy with measures like this one, which unequivocally weakens Israel’s judiciary, democracy, and systems of checks and balances,” stated Halie Soifer, CEO of the JDCA.
The group stated that it stands with “the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have demonstrated in support of Israel’s democracy and in opposition to harmful judicial overhaul proposals, including this legislation.”
It did not state to what extent it stands with the estimated 200,000 Israelis, who reportedly protested in favor of judicial reform, nor did it respond to a JNS query.
This article was originally published in JNS and can be viewed here.