Conservative movement: Legal overhaul would ‘eviscerate’ Israeli checks and balances

Joining other international Jewish groups, Masorti-Conservative leadership comes out in favor of President Herzog’s call to freeze legislation, hold dialogue on judicial reform

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Demonstrators rally on a highway in Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli government's planned overhaul of the judicial system, on February 18, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Demonstrators rally on a highway in Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli government's planned overhaul of the judicial system, on February 18, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The international Conservative-Masorti movement on Sunday called on the government to halt its planned judicial overhaul, warning that parts of it would “eviscerate” the country’s system of checks and balances.

The worldwide Conservative-Masorti leadership, representing some 2 million Conservative Jews around the world, said it supported President Isaac Herzog’s initiative to freeze the current legislative process and bring together representatives from the government and opposition to hold negotiations for judicial reform.

“We understand the extraordinary nature of a call by a global movement representing more than 2 million Diaspora Jews regarding an internal matter of the State of Israel. But our love for Israel compels us to action, just as it has in every past crisis the State of Israel has faced,” the umbrella organization said.

The Conservative-Masorti leadership joined a number of other large international Jewish groups in calling for negotiations on judicial reform in light of the growing divisions in Israeli society over the government’s proposed dramatic overhaul, which would radically alter the distribution of power in the government by stripping the judiciary of nearly all its power and independence.

Last week, the mostly right-wing religious Zionist World Mizrachi movement similarly called on Israeli political parties to meet and negotiate judicial reform, saying it is “deeply alarmed and concerned by the divisiveness and vitriolic tone” surrounding the current proposals to overhaul the judicial system.

World Mizrachi, an Orthodox movement, stressed the need for “broad consensus” before making major structural alterations to Israel’s governmental system, noting the lasting scars from previous times when “far-reaching controversial changes were made by the government, such as the Oslo Accords and disengagement from Gaza… with the thinnest of majorities and in a way where around half the citizens of Israel were forced into something they saw as catastrophic.”

“Past actions need to be learned from to ensure that positive and sustainable change can take place in a way that the internal fabric of Israel is strengthened and not, G-d forbid, threatened,” it said in a statement.

Last week, the US-based Anti-Defamation League also called for negotiations on judicial reforms.

“We implore all parties to exert responsible leadership and avoid incendiary rhetoric,” the ADL said. “At a time of rising antisemitism worldwide, the Jewish people cannot afford such acrimony and division. We urge all sides in Israel and the Diaspora to remain committed to reasonable compromise and constructive discourse.”

In its statement on Sunday, the Conservative-Masorti movement specifically spoke out against a plan to permit the Knesset to overrule a High Court decision with 61 votes, saying it would “eviscerate the already fragile balance of power between the branches of Israel’s government.”

The group warned that going forward with the proposed judicial overhaul would make it more difficult for it to defend Israel abroad.

“Weakening Israel’s highly-regarded judicial system would undermine the message we have proudly and successfully promoted for decades around the world that Israel is both a Jewish AND a democratic state,” it said.

The letter was signed by the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Cantors Assembly, Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano, Marom Olami, Masorti Olami, Mercaz USA, Schechter Institutes, Inc., Masorti Foundation, Jewish Educators Assembly, and North American Association of Synagogue Executives.

Once reticent to weigh in on internal Israeli issues, the international Conservative-Masorti movement has increasingly criticized this government. Shortly after the election, the movement called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to not give far-right politician Itamar Ben Gvir a cabinet post, in light of the latter’s checkered legal past and history of support for Jewish terrorism. Ben Gvir was named national security minister, giving him responsibility for the police.

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