'They're serious people; I don't believe they'll intervene'

Justice minister warns of ‘earthquake’ if High Court overturns Jewish state law

Ayelet Shaked says top bench does not have the authority to strike down controversial legislation passed as quasi-constitutional Basic Law

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on August 2, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on August 2, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked warned of an “earthquake” if the High Court of Justice moves to overturn the controversial nation-state law.

Shaked also told Army Radio on Sunday that she did not believe the High Court has the power to strike down the legislation 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.

At least three petitions have been lodged with the High Court since the law was passed on July 19, demanding that justices overturn the law over 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.

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 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support.

Shaked in her Sunday interview reiterated her support for the law, which has been increasingly criticized as discriminatory against Israel’s non-Jewish minorities.

Druze protesters at a demonstration in Tel Aviv against the nation-state law, August 4, 2018. (Luke Tress / Times of Israel staff)

“There is nothing revolutionary in this specific law,” she said. “It contains values that the state was founded on, values of settlement, immigration and national identity,” she said. “There is consensus about these values.”

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.”

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.

Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, December 16, 2014. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

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 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 “nullified as quickly as possible.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu defended the law as “vital” for ensuring that “Israel will remain the Jewish nation-state for generations to come.”

Pushing back against the weeks of Druze-led protests against the law, Netanyahu insisted that “no one has harmed or intends to harm individual rights.”

Protesters wave Israeli and Druze flags at a demonstration against the nation-state law, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on August 4, 2018. (Luke Tress / Times of Israel staff)

More than 50,000 Israelis, waving Israeli and Druze flags and calling for equality, gathered at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night to demonstrate against the law. Leaders of the Druze community were among the key organizers of the demonstration.

Beyond angering the Druze, the law has sparked widespread criticism from Israel’s other minorities and opposition parties, the international community, and Jewish groups abroad.

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.”

Most Popular
read more: