A U.S. legal scholar who has advised several Israeli leaders opposes judicial reforms sought by members of Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming hard-right government, warning the country’s democratic credentials could suffer.
A focus of the proposed overhaul is the Israeli Supreme Court, whose independence from the fractious Knesset parliament and occasional interventions in legislation Harvard University professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz has cited in his pro-Israel advocacy.
Some members of both Netanyahu’s Likud party and of his religious-nationalist coalition allies want more government and parliamentary involvement in selecting justices. They also want Knesset powers, they say, to override Supreme Court rulings.
They accuse the court of overreach and the bench of being unrepresentative of the public. Israelis opposed to the reforms deem the court as a bulwark for minority rights and a separation of synagogue and state.
“There should be no override whatsoever on issues of basic liberty – gay rights, equality for Arabs, voting issues,” Dershowitz said on Thursday during a visit to Israel, where he discussed the matter with Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog and far-right figures.
“Those are the core of what the Supreme Court should be doing – without having to fear that a political majority of one can basically undo important and significant human rights.”
A general override, Dershowitz said, “would make my job a lot harder in defending Israel in human rights courts, in the court of public opinion, on university campuses.”
“Israel does have a very vibrant system of checks of balances, and the judiciary is the crucial part of that, and it is a gem. It’s respected all over the world.”
Israelis might compromise, he said, by agreeing to keep the Supreme Court out of political or economic decisions not involving human rights, or by requiring sweeping majority votes for overrides rather than the proposed 61 out of 120 lawmakers.
Dershowitz was dismissive of the suggestion that Israel’s government should get more sway over the nine-member committee for selecting Supreme Court justices or that nominations should undergo Knesset review.
The committee is made up of three justices, two ministers, two Knesset members and two lawyers.
“I think the (Israeli) system is a much better one than the United States,” he said. “We’ve had lots and lots of unqualified justices appointed to the (U.S.) Supreme court politically. The Senate confirmation hearings are a disaster.”
Half-a-century of studying Israel’s Supreme Court had convinced him of its political fluidity, Dershowitz said, rejecting calls for the bench to better reflect the electorate.
“It’s supposed to be elitist, non-representative and aloof,” he said. “A good court should be criticised by both sides – because it’s counter-majoritarian.”