A former justice minister and veteran Knesset member for the ruling Likud party warned on Thursday that the policies toward the justice system supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s likely next coalition could turn Israel into a dictatorship, and argued that they are diametrically opposed to the policies promoted for decades by Likud.
Dan Meridor — who held several ministerial posts under Netanyahu during his 21 years as a lawmaker between 1984 and 2013 — joined former Likud ministers Benny Begin and Limor Livnat in coming out publicly against the premier’s push to curb the authority of the High Court of Justice, and in the process, safeguard himself immunity from prosecution in the three graft cases against him.
But Meridor issued the most scathing criticism of his former political ally’s planned moves, which reportedly include a bill allowing lawmakers to overrule administrative decisions by the High Court of Justice, telling Army Radio that they would “change the regime system.”
“The idea that someone is above the law, that there is no equality before the law, that suspicions against the prime minister and ministers won’t be investigated and reach the court, is turning our country into something else,” Meridor said. “This has never happened. We have had prime ministers and ministers, even a president, who went to jail. We should be proud that there are no privileged people who are above the law.
“The idea of an override clause — that we won’t be a democracy, that there will be a dictatorship and the majority can do whatever it wants, that the court can’t say anything and there are no checks and balances — is a dangerous anti-democratic idea. There is not a single parliament in the world without checks and balances,” Meridor charged.
According to a television report on Wednesday night, Netanyahu and his intended new coalition partners have agreed that the incoming government will legislate a far-reaching constitutional change to curb the powers of the Supreme Court — giving Knesset members the authority to re-legislate laws that the court has struck down, and preventing the court from intervening in administrative decisions.
In addition to its far-reaching constitutional implications, such a law is of immense potential personal significance for Netanyahu, who is facing prosecution in three corruption cases, and is widely expected to ask his fellow Knesset members to vote in favor of giving him immunity from prosecution, as is possible under existing Israeli law.
The prime minister is facing charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and bribery in one of them. Netanyahu, who by law is entitled to a pre-trial hearing with the attorney general before an indictment is formally filed, has denied any wrongdoing and claims the corruption accusations are aimed at forcing him from office.
Meridor, asked whether he agreed with another veteran former Likud member, Benny Begin, who earlier this week called Netanyahu’s push for immunity an “act of corruption,” answered: “Of course.”
Meridor, who was justice minister from 1988 to 1992, said the early 1990s constitutional revolution and the legislation of some of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws safeguarding human rights had been initiated and prepared by himself and by the Likud government of the time, under prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. That is contrary to the perception, repeatedly hyped by supporters of legislation to curb the court’s powers, that commonly associates that revolution with the left and with former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak.
Meridor decried the “crazy argument that ‘rule’ means ‘absolute rule’,” and accused the incoming government of planning to “bulldoze the justice system, blow after blow” and to “neuter this glorious system that we built and have been proud of for 70 years.”
Meridor said he was “in agony” over Likud’s present state, arguing that it had “reversed” its historical support for judicial activism, which he said had been the policy urged by its legendary first chairman, Menachem Begin, Benny Begin’s father.
“I cannot believe that there will be enough lawmakers who will dare to raise a hand in support of this corrupt act,” he concluded. “I would like to believe that among the 35 Likud members there will be those who don’t support the demise of the justice system and of the value of equality.”
On Sunday, Begin issued similar criticism, telling Israel Radio: “I am witnessing this with great sadness. The prime minister hiding behind the shield of immunity as a Knesset member, with or without legislative changes, is a corrupt act.
“With this act, the prime minister intends to misuse his leadership power for personal gain, and he is dragging others down with him,” Begin added. “The Knesset members who support the prime minister’s attempt to escape justice will be abusing their office by lending a hand to a clear act of corruption.”
Raoul Wootliff and Marissa Newman contributed to this report.