Says Israeli children must be educated on rights, equality

Lapid proposes constitution for Israel to extract itself from ‘terrible crisis’

Opposition chief calls to codify start of Declaration of Independence, limit judicial activism but maintain strong court, examine how many Haredi men can stay in full-time study

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a rally against the judicial overhaul in Herzliya, on March 4, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a rally against the judicial overhaul in Herzliya, on March 4, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Friday said Israel must enact a constitution to resolve the “terrible crisis” caused by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s controversial judicial overhaul.

“This dangerous government is right about only one thing: the old Israeli contract [with citizens] is no longer valid,” Lapid began, noting that the system was “off balance.”

Lapid said in a statement that the constitution should begin with the first paragraph of the 1948 Declaration of Independence, stating the Land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people.

Lapid said in addition to the declaration, three basic laws would make up the constitution.

The first would be a declaration of the supremacy of the country’s Basic Laws, and would subject all government authorities to restrictions established by law.

Lapid said the second law would require a “real, deep and courageous process” to determine the number of Haredi men that Israeli society and the economy can support in full-time study.

Israelis sign a copy of the Declaration of Independence at a protest against the government’s controversial judicial reform bill in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics at the start of the year showed that with the ultra-Orthodox population’s current growth rate of 4% — the highest of any group in Israel — by the end of the decade, it will constitute 16% of the total population. A large percentage of Haredi men are in full-time study, meaning they are not in the workforce and are exempted from military service.

The third law, Lapid proposed, would define the possibilities for judicial review of Knesset legislation.

Lapid said that while “judicial activism” should be limited, “a democratic state cannot exist without a strong and independent court.”

In addition, the Yesh Atid leader said that the judicial appointment committee would have its composition changed so that the Supreme Court is “diverse in its composition and opinions, but will ensure that politicians — from any side — will not have control over the selection of judges.”

No further details were given on the potential makeup of the panel — one pillar of the government’s plans is to wrest control of the Judicial Appointments Committee, constraining judicial power in favor of expanding political control.

Critics have said the coalition’s package of proposals will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters have charged it is a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.

Lapid said that alongside the constitution, there must be a process of in-depth education on democratic values.

“Israeli children should not only learn mathematics and English at the highest level, but also what civil equality is, why the rights of women, LGBT people and members of Arab society are important, and why Judaism does not contradict democracy but complements it,” Lapid wrote.

“Instead of a hasty and obscene gallop to a regime change that will turn us into another failed Middle Eastern dictatorship, we need to create and fight for a positive, optimistic, inspiring shared vision. For us and for future generations,” Lapid wrote, adding that his proposals could also not be undertaken unilaterally.

“Israel is a Jewish democracy. We will not allow it to become a messianic, nationalist, violent and undemocratic state that destroys its economy, seriously harms national security and destroys the sacred idea that we are one nation,” he said.

“A constitution for Israel based on the Declaration of Independence is not only ethically and morally justified, it is also the only thing that will get us out of the terrible crisis we have fallen into,” Lapid concluded.

Israelis wave national flags during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government to overhaul the judicial system, outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, February 13, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The legislative plans by the right-religious government, Israel’s most hardline to date, have sparked mass public protests in Israel for over two months, as well as fierce backlash from opposition politicians and dire warnings from economists, business leaders, legal experts and security officials.

A number of polls have indicated the legislation is broadly unpopular with the public.

On Thursday, The Movement for Quality Government in Israel (MQG), one of the key organizations protesting against the coalition’s judicial overhaul program, listed ten conditions, including the adoption of a constitution based on “the spirit” of the Declaration of Independence, and the passage of a bill of rights to ensure equality “in rights and obligations,” as preconditions for a compromise solution.

Groups opposing the overhaul have been firm in their stand that talks on a potential compromise will not be held until the legislative process is halted.

President Isaac Herzog on Thursday night denounced the government’s judicial overhaul legislation as “oppressive” and harmful to democracy, and called for it to be abandoned immediately and replaced by a framework for consensual reform.

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