Multiple American Jewish groups criticized the Israeli government’s passage of a judicial reform that limits the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down government decisions based on the “reasonableness” standard.
The bill passed in the Knesset 64-0, with the opposition boycotting the vote altogether. Protests have been raging across Israel over the bill and the ruling coalition’s broader push for judicial reform; some military reservists even said after the July 24 bill passed that they would no longer voluntarily serve in the military to protest the bill.
Various Jewish groups expressed concern that the bill passed without a “broad consensus” in the country.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Israeli government passed the controversial Reasonableness Bill, failing to heed the call of President Herzog and others to reach a compromise rooted in a broad societal consensus,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said in a statement. “As we have previously said, this initiative and other judicial overhaul proposals could weaken Israeli democracy and harm Israel’s founding principles as laid out in the Declaration of Independence. The failure to reach a compromise has led to unprecedented divisions within Israeli society, threatening both the country’s social cohesion, economic well-being and, according to experts, its security preparedness.” They later added: “We continue to believe that in this historic moment, all Israeli political leaders should demonstrate courage and willingness to compromise and make concessions. There is no legislation that is more important than the well-being of the Israeli society. We strongly urge the Israeli government to refrain from moving additional judicial overhaul bills forward and focus instead on working together with Israeli civil leadership to build consensus and cohesion aimed at healing the wounds within Israeli society.”
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) expressed their “profound disappointment” in a similar statement. “The new law was pushed through unilaterally by the governing coalition amid deepening divisions in Israeli society as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets,” the AJC said. “Of particular concern to AJC, the continued effort to press forward on judicial reform rather than seeking compromise has sown discord within the Israeli Defense Forces at a time of elevated threats to the Jewish homeland and has strained the vital relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. While many Israelis agree that some reform of Israel’s judicial system is warranted, AJC has consistently maintained that reform to the institutions core to Israeli democracy should only be adopted on the basis of the broadest possible consensus. That is why we have been strongly supportive of President Herzog’s efforts to find compromise. President Herzog’s successful visit to the United States last week reminded us that a thoughtful and pragmatic approach can gain support across political lines.”
Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations Chair Harriet P. Schleifer and CEO William Daroff said in a statement, “We must remember the dangers that discord and division can pose to the Jewish people. We call on Israel’s leaders to seek compromise and unity. Responsible political actors must ease tensions that have run dangerously high. The Conference of Presidents will always advocate in support of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel, which is crucial to the security and well-being of both nations. Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. Both countries benefit immeasurably from this strategic partnership and abiding friendship, and will continue to do so because of our fundamental bonds and common interests.”
The European Leadership Network (ELNET) tweeted, “ELNET, being apolitical and non-partisan, is deeply concerned about the ramifications of this vote and has called upon the government to reach a broad national consensus on constitutional changes. ELNET believes both mutual interests and common democratic values are the basis for relations between Israel and Europe. ELNET will carefully monitor developments moving forward.”
Other Jewish groups went a step further, suggesting that the bill’s passage threatens to destroy Israel’s democracy altogether. “With the “reasonableness standard” repealed with respect to a critical range of government decisions, the Supreme Court has lost a major piece of its ability to act as a balance on the actions of the executive,” J Street said in a statement. “This extreme-right government will have an increasingly unrestricted hand to carry out major appointments, dismissals and policies without fear that they could be halted and overturned by the court. Their agenda will almost certainly include deeply harmful new acts of annexation and expropriation in the West Bank, where they continue to pursue a one-state nightmare of permanent occupation and exclusive sovereignty between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. It will continue to chip away at the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people, Palestinians (both Israeli citizens and those in the occupied territory), non-Orthodox Jews and many others.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) denounced the bill’s passage as being “anti-democratic.” “We are deeply concerned by the ongoing attempts to erode Israel’s democracy with measures like this one, which unequivocally weakens Israel’s judiciary, democracy, and systems of checks and balances,” JDCA CEO Halie Soifer said. “As President Herzog has urged and President Biden advised, the focus of the Israeli government should be on uniting around a consensus for judicial reform, not divisive and undemocratic measures like this one. We stand with the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have demonstrated in support of Israel’s democracy and in opposition to harmful judicial overhaul proposals, including this legislation.”
The Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism similarly said in a statement, “The governing coalition’s choice to unilaterally pass this legislation represents a clear and present danger to the country’s independent judiciary, which may still come under further assault. Democracy requires independent legislative, judicial, and executive branches. With no written constitution nor upper house in the legislature, the independence of Israel’s judiciary is indispensable. Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s coalition has created serious fractures in Israel and the wider Jewish world. In the face of their legislative aggression, we are heartened by the broad citizen coalition of Israelis who are resolved to protect the Jewish and democratic nature of the state. We urge the government to refrain from introducing further judicial legislation and to participate in negotiations under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog.”
By contrast, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) National President Morton A. Klein expressed staunch support for the bill. “There were hundreds of thousands of Israelis in Tel Aviv rallying in support of this judicial reform … yet the media in Israel and America neglected to report this,” Klein said in a statement. “The reform is a victory for democracy, the rule of law, a democratic balance of powers, and is curbing judicial tyranny in Israel. The ‘reasonableness standard’ was abusive, violated democratically-passed laws; was used to oust a democratically-elected minister; and subjective: What’s unreasonable to one person is reasonable to another. There was no criteria for judging ‘reasonableness’: It was simply the judge’s political or personal opinion and worldview! And when you have an Israeli Supreme Court with an overwhelming left wing majority with no diversity, you get rulings not reflecting the law or the people. I’m sure if the Court had an overwhelming right wing majority, the people in the streets opposing judicial reform would be supporting it.” He added that it “would be an anti-democratic travesty to allow Israel’s democratic process to be thwarted by the left wing mobs who obstructed vital roads and Israel’s airports, sometimes acted violently, and even tried to block Knesset members from entering the Knesset to vote today.”
Democratic Majority for Israel CEO Mark Mellman and Board Co-Chairs Ann Lewis and Todd Richman said in a statement, “While we believe it was a serious mistake for this government to ignore the pleading of the majority of its citizens, as well as its President, and pass this bill without significant compromise, it was done democratically. As in any democracy, including the United States, governments are empowered to make decisions however disappointing or unwise we may believe them to be. It should also be noted, despite some misleading headlines in the media, the law approved today in the Knesset does not prevent the Israeli Supreme Court from overturning government decisions, though it does remove one important criterion for doing so.” They added that “it is not too late for compromise on it and other elements of the proposed judicial overhaul. We urge all parties to return immediately to negotiations under the auspices of President Herzog to agree on a widely supported set of laws that guarantee the democratic character of the Jewish state. We remain inspired by the hundreds of thousands of patriotic Israeli protesters continuing to fight to protect their democracy, and we know that through these difficult times, the U.S.-Israel relationship remains steadfast.”