Former prime minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday slammed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, saying her “threats” against Israel’s top court were like those of a “proto-fascist” state.
Barak, in an interview with Army Radio, criticized Shaked for warning Sunday of an “earthquake” if the High Court of Justice were to overturn the controversial nation-state law, which is accused by some critics of discriminating against Israel’s non-Jewish minorities.
“Threats like that are only heard in proto-fascist regimes,” Barak said.
The former prime minister insisted that the new legislation must be rejected by the court, despite the fact that it is a constitutional Basic Law, which means that the court does not have the legal authority to overturn it. He insisted that the law contradicted the Declaration of Independence.
He added, “It is enough to see who opposed the bill to understand that it is worthless and unjust.”
Barak, who served as prime minister in 1999-2001, also said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “lost all morals and is doing everything to stay in power.”
He said Netanyahu was “skewing Zionism” and destroying the “family” that Israel set out to build 70 years ago.
For months Shaked, along with Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, has been attempting to advance legislation broadly limiting the High Court’s circumvention power, but has made little headway despite having Netanyahu’s support.
On Sunday, Shaked told Army Radio that she does not believe the High Court has the power to strike down the nation-state law on constitutional grounds, because it was passed as a Basic Law, the constitutional underpinning of the Israeli justice system.
“Such a move would cause an earthquake between different authorities,” Shaked told the radio station when asked about possible judicial intervention over the law.
Four petitions have been lodged with the High Court since the law was passed on July 19, demanding that justices overturn the law due to its alleged discrimination.
“High Court justices are very serious and professional people,” Shaked said. “The Knesset is the constituent assembly, which defines and determines the Basic Laws. [The justices] have to interpret the laws in accordance with the Basic Laws, and I don’t believe a majority on the Supreme Court would take such a step.
“I very much hope this doesn’t happen, and I don’t believe it will,” she added.
The nation-state law enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” for the first time, and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
The law also downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”
Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence defined the state as a Jewish and democratic one. The Netanyahu government says the new law merely enshrines the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are anchored in existing legislation.
But critics, both at home and abroad, say it undermines the constitution’s commitment to equality for all its citizens. It has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze community, whose members say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.
In its petition to the court, the left-wing Meretz party said the law contradicts a previous basic law passed in 1992 that guarantees “human dignity” for all citizens of Israel.
Representatives of the Druze and Bedouin communities, as well as Arab Israelis, have also petitioned the court to overturn the law.
Last week, retired Supreme Court judge Salim Joubran spoke out against the “unnecessary and bad” law. In an Israel Radio interview, Joubran said the law creates “a superior class and an inferior class,” and called for it to be “nullified as quickly as possible.”
Michael Bachner and Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.