Beyond the Cusp

December 23, 2015

June 1, 2015

The Great and Powerful Bibi

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu has announced another power which he has awarded unto himself. I had attempted to think up some comical manner based on Toto, the Scarecrow looking for a brain, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man desiring a heart and Dorothy who would have played the part of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Of course Bibi (read respectively as Prime Minister Netanyahu and also intended to give the thought of ‘The Great and Powerful Bibi’), as stated in the article title, would have played the Great and Powerful Oz which was manipulated by and represented the timid little man behind the curtain who decided on the new persona so as to give himself gravitas and impressive dimensions he feared he lacked in person. With Bibi now taking a new and almost completely original definition for veto power over legislation, the comparison might have been appropriate. Unfortunately for you and a letdown for me, I am not the greatest of comic writers if I might be called such at all. So, instead we are left discussing this new power, its ramifications and perhaps a look into the crystal ball to try and divine the real reasons and what future this portends.

 

First-off, the comparison of the veto power as explained that Bibi has assumed and the veto power of American Presidents have only one real comparison, they are both referred to as ‘veto power’ by the executive be they President or Prime Minister. Where the American President must wait for legislation to be passed and then he is able to veto the bill which then returns to the Congress where a two-thirds vote by both houses can override the veto by the President making his veto not necessarily the last word on the legislation and it becoming law. Prime Minister Netanyahu has a completely different veto as he informs a ruling member of the Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. Levin also serves as deputy to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, chaired by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, of the Prime Minister’s desire to kill any legislation and he is empowered to kill the bill right there never even allowing a reading before the Knesset or any form of vote or override. This makes the veto by the Prime Minister a preventive action making this particular power more attuned to an Emperor or a Monarch with supreme and undisputable powers. Levin stated speaking with Haaretz that the veto will be used very rarely adding, “I don’t want to make serial use of it,” as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and he shared a “good rapport.” That is all well and good, but any use of such power and even its existence makes the Prime Minister all powerful beyond the norms of his office, but if he was able to get this approved by the coalition, then, obviously, more power to him.

 

The question that this begs is when does the Prime Minister intend that this power be exercised. There is one obvious and one which strikes fear in us here where this power would be wielded, one widely and one to rein in those the Prime Minister fears inside his coalition who might have more extreme views, some might say were made of sterner stuff. The obvious use of such an extreme veto power would be that it was expected that having such a narrow, actually the most minimal, coalition majority at a mere sixty-one that it might be expected for a series of critical maneuvers might be made by swamping the Knesset with divisive legislation not intended to ever pass but to expose and widen differences eventually tearing down the coalition forcing another election cycle and in order to achieve anything productive and agreed upon within the coalition. These petty targeted legislation would be best nipped in the bud and prevented from doing their intended destructive influences. Then there is the feared use where Bibi would be implementing this power to prevent any confrontations between himself and the Knesset with the Judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court. Justice Ayelet Shaked has stated she intends to cut the Supreme Court’s overbearance and overwhelming power to dictate and influence laws by actually reviewing every law passed by the Knesset and then vetoing whichever laws they disagree with and even rewriting or writing original laws and through judicial fiat making these laws be enforced. Many have referred to the Supreme Court as a second or shadow government far more powerful than the Prime Minister and Knesset combined as their veto is not made available to review and their enacted by judicial fiat laws are also not reviewable or removable as any attempt at doing so is simply struck down by the Supreme Court.

 

This is, unfortunately, a trait which has plagued Bibi in his role as Prime Minister and is something his impressive and well recognized military career would not have given one to expect such hesitance and insecurity from one such as Prime Minister Netanyahu. Should this power be intended to avoid any confrontations with the Supreme Court and used to strike down those instances where the Justice Minister takes on the court too directly and with what Bibi fears is too little tact and delicacy. Unfortunately, the only way the Supreme Court will be reined in and brought to more represent the people of Israel and not be a self-selecting and self-sustaining clique which wields power beyond measure will be a direct assault with the full support and backing of the Knesset and the Prime Minister. Currently the Supreme Court Justices in combination of near even representation between the coalition and the opposition as well as the head of the Bar Association and the Attorney General, who is appointed largely by the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court has influence and a leftist influence which has only been further exaggerated through a string of leftist appointees being placed on the Supreme Court Bench as well in the Attorney Generals spot and any other institutions which are under the direction of these offices instituting an echo chamber where these legal arenas are resistant to change in their political viewpoints and still are representative largely of the early socialist, almost communist, political ideals which were the vast majority the first few decades of the history of Israel which cemented the courts in place and sustained such views across the six decades of the nation’s history.

 

One change which has been proposed both within the government and amongst the legal and popular representatives of the people and the media that the court appointees should have to pass through some review by the Knesset in order to bring the courts and legal system of the State of Israel more closely aligned and able to be altered as the citizens themselves develop, mature and take on new ideas and choose to stress certain political ideals which might differ with an unalterable and moribund court still stuck in the viewpoints of the initial decade of Israeli existence, an extremely leftist viewpoint which stands in opposition to much of the current societal views. Should this and the ability to prevent any of the more extreme and untried views to solve many of the most pressing problems facing the nation and people of Israel be presented by those more to the right or of a more strident form of Zionism attempt to press legislation, this veto power would grant Bibi with relatively unprecedented and supreme power to prevent such views from being debated. We will have to wait and see how often and in which manner this unalterable veto is used. Sometimes it will have to be divined by the media and public whether the reason that certain ideas seem to go silent extremely suddenly and unnaturally. This Prime Minister normally has great amounts of power in a Parliamentary form of governance but this new veto, more of a kill switch, power over legislation will require great and astute scrutiny in the coming months in this new government and perhaps might result in a call for new elections with the greatest question of who other than Bibi can be chosen as Prime Minister? Perhaps this is the greatest question which may fall upon the Likud leadership to decide, but here too Bibi has gathered great centralization of power to himself making uprooting him from the lead of the Likud apparently impossible for now. That may force the people of Israel to seek a new leader elsewhere which should be a step taken with care and serious deliberations well before any action. Such a question would merit being a central issue for the citizens of Israel to consider amongst themselves in the immediate future rather than waiting until the next elections are upon us. Time’s a wasting.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

May 12, 2015

Ayelet Shaked, Justice Minister for a Change

 

Ayelet Shaked has one obvious difference from almost all former Justice Ministers, she is a religious, Zionist, nationalist, right wing reformer who has a separate view of the Supreme Court and how it has been chosen and unlimited in its power and wishes to change this situation. She has taken on a challenge which has bothered and frustrated others of her political ilk but somehow had remained beyond their reach as even in right wing governments the Justice Minister has inevitably come from the leftist or least right wing minister who either saw no problem or was overwhelmed by the opposition to change. The problem has been a threat faced by every right-wing, Zionist, nationalist or religious legislation whether produced by a liberal or conservative Knesset. The Supreme Court has acted as a gauntlet which every law passed by the Knesset has had to survive. This has worked in two completely different ways. The Supreme Court review allows a centrist or leftist Knesset to pass legislation demanded from religious parties or even center-right parties which may have been included in their coalition by necessity or expediency and then rely on the Supreme Court review prerogative to declare the legislation unconstitutional despite Israel having no constitution. A conservative, right-wing, religious, Zionist, nationalist coalition government will find that gauntlet to be a stiff challenge foiling even the most popular legislation, well, most popular anywhere in Israel outside central and northern Tel Aviv and other similar left-wing brie and wine party communities. It remains to be seen how far Ms. Shaked will get with her planned reforms, some of which are fairly benign and others targeting some sacred cows.

 

The early reactions have been alarming even if not completely surprising. There have been charges against Ayelet Shaked making aspersions targeting her being an attractive woman though these references have been anything but complimentary. The sexist commentaries would never have been permitted to pass without howling from the media and those self-appointed conscience for society had the comments been made against a leftist Minister of the Knesset. There have been some from the left such as Tzipi Livni and Meretz chairperson Zehava Galon who have denounced the threats and aspersions, giving one hope that civility can be reached and ranks closed against such uncivil effronteries. Still, the threats to Ayelet Shaked included death threats and other forms of physical harm and were of sufficient quantity and many so overt that she has been assigned security details to assure her safety. The fact that a Minister of the Knesset who has set for themselves to reform a part of the government which has met with complaints from across the political spectrum, though mostly from one end, should require twenty-four hour security protection is a sad commentary which tells us more about those opposing change than it says about the changes themselves. Reformations are never easy and often are opposed strongly by those served best by an inequality which is to be addressed; the reforms are often lauded by the people retrospectively. Change often is best performed slowly over time but there are those rare instances when change must be performed in one sweeping set of reforms. This is the latter form and will also require broad support actively communicated by the people if it has any hope of being successful. The fact that this is a sixty-one seat coalition which is as narrow as is possible makes the possibility for these reforms to be enacted and successfully implemented seemingly impossible. But then again, should the changes by obviously measured and not overt and far-reaching but fair and even-handed, then perhaps it will receive a more favorable reaction and the acceptance reach beyond just the coalition and also receive votes from outside the coalition showing a greater range of acceptance than initially expected.

 

The announced expectation for possible reforms to be applied to the various powers and specifics in choosing and possible oversight of the selection process has made a stir clear across the political spectrum. Not all the reactions would be what one might expect. There are those traditionalists on the right who are against change, especially any sudden or expansive changes and there are those on the left who also fear the powers vested and nearly unlimited scope given the Supreme Court. The one thing those who today enjoy the excess of power backing their points of view may find themselves facing a similarly long period where the Supreme Court would have slowly but inexorably changed its slant and become a tool of the other extreme. The test that any changes should be best judged by would be those where both those on the right and the left have similar misgivings and both complaining equally, then we will know the changes are balanced. We can expect there to be extensive debates and, if Ayelet Shaked is near as wise as some have asserted, a balanced group representative of the entire political spectrum included in the proceedings making for a balanced set of recommendations is utilized such that everyone has some investment in the changes. Those who have found the Supreme Court selection process to be self-perpetuating and so resistant to change as to make the Supreme Court potentially an anachronistic body fossilized and incapable of changing with the society and eventually leading to it becoming so out of touch and lost within their own little cocoon so as to make their decisions as much a joke as a target of derision. No body of highly educated individuals would ever desire to be part of efforts which would eventually lead to the irrelevance of that very body leading to its having to be erased and rebuilt from scratch yet that is exactly what the Supreme Court risks if they continue on their current path. So, while some will look onto the proceedings with great hope, others will dread the possible changes which may weaken their powers today, the truth this very well will make a Supreme Court and accompanying judicial proceedings and selection processes more adaptive and representative of the people and their society retaining sufficient resistance to rapid and excessive changes so as to retain its deliberative standing making the court a curb to changes which may prove too far and too fast acting as an anchor but an anchor which can be repositioned when required. May Ms. Shaked find success and may her security details have the most boring jobs in all Israel.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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