Gallant: Undermining Declaration of Independence harms Israel’s moral standing

Defense minister appears to rebuke stance taken by government’s lawyer Ilan Bombach, who told High Court founding document was hastily written, lacks legal authority

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at an awards ceremony for outstanding officers, at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 3, 2023. (Shahar Yorman/ Defense Ministry
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at an awards ceremony for outstanding officers, at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 3, 2023. (Shahar Yorman/ Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday defended Israel’s Declaration of Independence in remarks that appeared to be a rebuke of positions taken by his own government.

Speaking at an IDF Armored Corps ceremony marking 50 years since the Yom Kippur War, Gallant said, “Whoever undermines the standing of the Declaration of Independence harms the central moral pillar of the State of Israel.”

“Precisely when it seemed that there was nothing left to hold on to, in times of great pain and terrible tragedy, we as a people held on to the good of the country, the flag, the symbols and the Declaration of Independence — this scroll which is the opening chapter of the unwritten constitution of a country without a constitution,” Gallant stated.

“Also today, the Declaration of Independence embodies the foundations on which the State of Israel was built. This is a Jewish state, a democratic state, with equal rights for all its citizens,” he added.

His comments came after the lawyer representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government sparked an uproar over his comments during a high-stakes High Court of Justice hearing last week.

During the hearing on petitions against the first piece of judicial overhaul legislation passed into law — the so-called “reasonableness” law — lawyer Ilan Bombach dismissed the Declaration of Independence as a “hasty” document endorsed by unelected signatories that cannot be a source of legal authority.

Bombach, who is representing the government at the High Court since Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has refused to do so, said the signatories of the foundational document were unelected and that it was “unthinkable” to say the declaration must “bind all future generations.”

“Because 37 people were authorized to sign the hasty Declaration of Independence, which was still being drafted until the last moment, this should obligate people who came later?” Bombach said.

File: Attorney Ilan Bombach, hired by the government as independent legal counsel to represent its position in the High Court of Justice over petitions against the government-backed reasonableness limitation law, at a High Court hearing for those petitions, July 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gallant, a moderate in Netanyahu’s Likud party, has pushed for a compromise on the government’s far-reaching judicial overhaul, citing his concerns that reservist protests against the legislation have harmed unity in the military.

Earlier this year Netanyahu fired Gallant, setting off massive protests, after the defense minister voiced opposition to the judicial legislation. Netanyahu then reinstated Gallant amid intense public pressure to do so.

Gallant also sought to pause the advance of the reasonableness law in July. The legislation prohibits the courts from reviewing government action using the judicial standard of reasonableness, whereby it can determine that a decision was invalid because it was made without properly assessing key considerations, or while using improper considerations.

Opponents of the law argue that it could potentially undermine the independence of senior law enforcement agencies, since without the reasonableness standard, it will be difficult to challenge arbitrary dismissals of officials.

Ministers and coalition MKs have argued that the law is necessary to stop the High Court from asserting its own worldview on government decisions and actions, and have said that the dismissal of senior law enforcement officials will still be subject to other tools in administrative law.

The law is the only component of the coalition’s broader judicial overhaul program that has been passed by the Knesset so far. Like other parts of the radical reform agenda, it has faced massive opposition from protest groups and opposition parties.

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