Yuval Noah Harari: Israel’s democracy ‘under threat’ from judicial overhaul

Historian says ‘most precious aspect of liberal democracy isn’t majority rule, but limiting the power of the ruler in order to protect citizen rights’

Historian Yuval Noah Harari speaks to Channel 12, on March 4, 2022. (Video screenshot)
Historian Yuval Noah Harari speaks to Channel 12, on March 4, 2022. (Video screenshot)

Historian Yuval Noah Harari said Thursday that Israel’s democracy was under threat from the government’s controversial judicial overhaul.

“Democracy’s under threat, in Israel & other countries. In a democracy, the winner shouldn’t take it all. If they do, it’s no longer a democracy,” he wrote on Twitter, the latest high-profile figure to condemn the plan.

“The most precious aspect of liberal democracy isn’t majority rule, but limiting the power of the ruler in order to protect citizen rights,” the bestselling author said.

In a slightly different version of the tweet in Hebrew, Harari wrote that “in a democracy, the winner doesn’t take it all (to paraphrase ABBA).”

Tens of thousands are expected to rally across the country on Saturday evening against the government’s plan, with a first reading of some of the proposals set for Monday; a bill must pass three readings to become law, and the coalition has indicated it seeks to blitz the legislation through the Knesset by April.

Protest leaders have called for a nationwide worker strike on Monday to coincide with the first rounds of voting on the legislation, an escalation in the demonstrations against the contentious proposals. There will also be a mass rally outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, and protests in other cities.

Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists rally outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, protesting against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the coalition’s proposals would severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

The government’s proposal has faced searing criticism from numerous top current and former jurists, including Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit said in an interview broadcast Thursday that the sweeping reform of the legal and judicial system would constitute “regime change” that would “eliminate the independence of Israel’s legal system from end to end.”

Mandelblit also accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of advancing the overhaul in order to bring his ongoing criminal trial to a premature end and insisted that he had been right to indict the premier despite the political instability that ensued.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases where he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in two cases, and bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in the third. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

Students and teachers protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on February 5, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The plan has also come under severe criticism across the business sector in Israel and around the world, with tech professionals, money managers, and financial institutions warning that it could lead to a brain drain among professionals, the outflow of funds from Israel and a decline in investments from abroad. Former Bank of Israel governors have also warned of its detrimental effects.

Netanyahu’s hardline coalition has prioritized the dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary. Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism.

Most Popular
read more: