Democracy 101: Israeli Style
Illustration: Haredim Protest Court Imposition of Draft Laws by Eli Segal [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia
WEATHER: I had the chance to visit Jaffa Street in Jerusalem today. After a quick appointment, my daughter and I passed through the shuk (public market). If you happen to live there, it's a great place to shop for just about anything fresh that you might need. You can even buy chocolate halva. If you don't live there, there is a new parking garage right nearby — just a two minute walk to the shuk. Our day took us to a Ministry of Health center. There was a sign that said, "Take care on our cleanliness," as you entered the bathroom — but someone forgot to fill the soap dispenser. Irony, to say the least.
One couldn't help but notice, though, the absolutely beautiful weather; we even slept that night with window breezes. There are some clouds in the sky as well, as a weak trough of low pressure makes it way through our area. However, thunderstorms associated with the trough are located over Cyprus and Turkey — not exactly in our backyard.
While the weather in the lower atmosphere meanders between hotter and not so hot summer weather, the middle and upper atmosphere are forecast to warm. This means that we'll be heading into Israeli summer, where temperatures are pleasantly warm, but skies remain mostly blue. I'm sure we'd all vote for more of this! [Dr. Lynn's complete and accurate weather forecast can be found here. Editor]
This could be the calm before the storm, however — and not one of the atmospheric type. I don't know if you noticed, but the government decided to stop all fishing in the waters of Gaza as a punishment for the continued launching of incendiary balloons — one balloon even exploded in mid-air with a bomb attached to it. I wonder when we'll take away their balloons as well.
One of our political parties, Yisrael Beyteynu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, actually decided to take a stand — but on the issue of ‘sharing the burden of protecting our country,’ i.e., forcing Haredim to serve in the IDF. However, it is not clear if they decided on this stand for principles or just to stick it to Prime Minister Netanyahu in the hopes of deposing him in the next election, come September.
Ironically, if it wasn't for the court ruling that the current law goes against the spirit of the Basic Laws (a pseudo-constitution), then Lieberman wouldn't have had a leg to stand on. Yet, he doesn't seem to care very much for preserving the power of the court to overrule certain laws and regulations.
There seems to be an idea going around among learned folks that democracy means the right of the majority to decide what's right and wrong — what's the law and what's unlawful.
Yet, a moment's thought will disprove this notion. Democracy evolved from an idea that the people should decide policy and governance — rather than a king, authoritarian ruler, or dictator. One needs to ask: "Who are the people?" They are individuals. Hence, there is a contradiction: how do you protect the individual from a group of others who might write laws negating the purpose of a democracy in the first place by enforcing their will upon that individual?
This became obvious to those whose sole aim was to protect citizens and states from the potential tyranny of the Federal Government of the newly formed United States. After agreeing on a constitution, they soon realized that it wasn't sufficient: it enabled a "tyranny of the majority."
For this reason, amendments were proposed in 1787 and added to the constitution, which are referred to as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights protects American citizens from arbitrary searches and seizures, excess fines and punishments, cruel and unusual punishment, and guarantees the right to practice religion without government interference, to assemble, to speak, and to petition the government and (most importantly) the courts to protect themselves and their freedoms.
The ultimate protector of the individual’s rights should be the court, which must have the lawful power to stop government actions that trample the rights of the individual — regardless of whether that individual is represented by the ruling party or not.
In Israel today, however, the Supreme Court (Bagatz) not only appoints its own members as judges and has the power to override legislation passed by the Knesset. Thus, I agree with the reforms which the previous Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, proposed to change our court selection process to be one that is open and representative.
But if there is a "court override" of the majority or if the ruling party has unlimited power to legislate, the ultimate expression of these unbalanced powers would be to pass laws invalidating the individual's right to choose new representatives either by cancelling elections outright, banning candidates from running in those elections or by ensconcing the leader of the government for life (as in China); or — if these are not graphic enough examples — the power to pass laws legalizing the murder of the Jewish people, as was done in Nazi Germany.
Be careful what you wish for...
Dr. Lynn is a lecturer at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Earth Sciences Department. He is also CEO of Weather It Is, LTD, a company that specializes in reducing weather risk. Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.