Tuesday, May 28, 2024

My Take on the News

The Contempt of the Court

Last week the Knesset approved the law eliminating (or at least reducing) the reasonability standard for judicial review. The judges of the Supreme Court have assumed the power to strike down entirely legal decisions made by the Knesset or government on the grounds that they are “unreasonable.” This is a very vague pretext for overturning a government decision, and it is difficult to refute an argument that is so subjective. As Netanyahu put it, “I felt that it was very reasonable to appoint Aryeh Deri as a minister in the government and a member of the cabinet—not only reasonable, but vital. But along came the judges and decided that it wasn’t reasonable.” The judges of the Supreme Court, as you are certainly aware, struck down Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Deri as a minister. That is actually almost the main reason for the government’s eagerness to pass the law eliminating the reasonability standard. Netanyahu is planning to reappoint Deri to his previous position, and this time the judges will presumably not have the ability to overturn his decision.

Throughout the years, the judges of the Supreme Court have canceled numerous decisions of the government and the Knesset on the grounds that they did not meet the test of “reasonability.” The judges know very well that this argument infuriates the political establishment and that it is rejected even by academic legal experts, but they do not care about any of that. As far as they are concerned, they are the true masters of the land, and they can do as they please.

If anyone had any doubt as to the sheer contempt with which the Supreme Court views everyone else, its ruling of two weeks ago should have put those doubts to rest. Two weeks ago, an expanded panel of seven Supreme Court justices struck down an arrangement calling for foreign workers who do not leave the country on time to be deprived of the funds deposited for them as social welfare benefits; the judges argued that this caused disproportionate harm to the foreigners’ constitutional property rights. The court ordered the Knesset and the relevant ministers to come up with an alternative arrangement within six months. In the event that they do not formulate an arrangement that the court will accept as less of an infringement on the foreigners’ rights, the arrangement will be canceled altogether.

The government has been struggling to combat the phenomenon of illegal immigration for years. The decision to deprive foreign workers of a portion of their savings was intended as a means of inducing them to leave the country. A foreign worker will think twice about overstaying his visa if his failure to leave has negative financial repercussions. But the Supreme Court struck down that policy two weeks ago, arguing that it was “unreasonable” and thus depriving the government of a powerful tool for the prevention of illegal immigration. Of course, the judges’ decision led to renewed calls to eliminate the reasonability standard.

Hearing Date Set for Appeals Against New Laws

The Knesset passed a law scrapping the reasonability standard by a majority vote of 64. There were no votes cast against the law, since the opposition decided to boycott the vote altogether.

In the short time since the law was passed, the justices of the Supreme Court have already begun trying to show the Knesset and the government that they are really in charge. The court has already received petitions claiming that Netanyahu has been ignoring the conflict-of-interest agreement that bars him from involvement in the judicial reform because of his status as a defendant in a criminal trial. Similar petitions have been filed in the past, and Netanyahu signed an agreement requiring him to avoid involvement in the overhaul. Since he has now begun dealing with the issue, the court was petitioned to have him dismissed from his position. In the interim, however, the Knesset approved the Incapacitation Law, which stipulates that a prime minister can be disqualified from holding his position only as a result of medical problems and not due to factors such as a conflict of interest. The court was also petitioned to overturn this law, and a hearing date has been set in two months’ time. The judges have thereby sent a clear message that they consider themselves the true rulers of the country. And the attorney general weighed in as well, expressing her opinion that the Incapacitation Law is unconstitutional. What a mess!

Of course, the great concern now is that the Supreme Court will decide to strike down the new law eliminating the reasonability test, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional and unreasonable. As could be expected, the court was petitioned to overturn the law as soon as it was passed. The judges responded that they wouldn’t prevent the law from taking effect (it was entered into the book of Israeli law on the day after it was approved in the Knesset) but they would review the petitions in September, after the court’s summer recess. The implication, of course, is that the judges might decide that the law should be struck down; at the very least, they are making it clear that they feel they have the power to do so. If they choose to strike down the law and restore their own power, it will result in a catastrophic explosion. But the judges do not seem to fear that eventuality at all.

Netanyahu has already said that he will not accept a court ruling overturning this piece of legislation. Nevertheless, it won’t be of much help to him; if he decides to reappoint Aryeh Deri, the court will probably be petitioned against him and the judges might decide again to strike down the appointment. Most people in Israel are afraid to imagine what might happen next.

As you can see, this September might bring us an unprecedented clash between these two branches of the government: the legislature and the judicial branch. Both the Incapacitation Law and the law eliminating the reasonability standard are part of the Basic Laws, which have never been overridden by the Supreme Court. If the judges attempt to interfere with Basic Laws now, the result might be sheer chaos.

Judges Hint That They Will Cancel Basic Laws

But even the specter of chaos doesn’t seem to faze the judges. As if all this wasn’t enough, the Supreme Court fanned the flames of controversy further on Sunday by issuing a temporary injunction delaying the dismissal of Aweke Zana, the head of the Anti-Racism Coordinating Unit, who was fired by Minister David Amsalem, who serves as a minister within the Justice Ministry.

Several former Supreme Court justices, along with the current attorney general, have gone on the record stating that there are several reasons that the law rejecting the reasonability standard may be considered unconstitutional. Their main argument is that the Knesset is considered to have abused its authority in passing it. Some of these people added that this would also be a valid reason to overturn the Incapacitation Law, which limits the government’s ability to place restrictions on a sitting prime minister. Meni Mazuz, a retired Supreme Court justice and ardent leftist, expressed that view explicitly in an interview this week. All of this adds to the very clear impression that the Supreme Court justices know no limits on their audacity.

Every one of the court’s recent moves has evoked outrage in political circles: their decision to revoke the penalties for foreign workers who overstay their visas, the injunction against firing the anti-racism official, and, above all, the fact that the court set a date to hear the petitions against the Incapacitation Law and the Reasonability Law, along with the recent comments about the Knesset abusing its authority. This is all evidence of the fact that there is an urgent need for the judges to be put in their place. The question is whether any such effort will succeed.

It is also outrageous that the attorney general has been supporting all the petitions against the government, when she is officially supposed to serve as the government’s legal advisor. That simply adds to the insanity of recent events in Israel. As I have said in the past, the State of Israel seems to need psychiatric observation….

The Sanzer Rebbes Warning

Aryeh Deri recently granted a long interview to one of Israel’s newspapers, which made for a fascinating read. Everyone who read that article found something that surprised them. Some were amazed to discover that Deri had been given the opportunity to hold the position of alternate prime minister and had rejected the offer; Deri believes that the position is completely superfluous. It is noteworthy that had he received the post, it would have been impossible for his appointment to be overturned by anyone, even the Supreme Court. The reasons for that are beyond the scope of this column, but the Supreme Court also lacks the authority to overturn the appointment of a prime minister for any reason in the world.

Personally, I was particularly taken by a paragraph that was included in the interview almost tangentially. “Let me tell you a story,” Deri said to his interviewer. “Many years ago, I had a meeting with the Sanzer Rebbe. We had an intensive conversation, and he spoke very forcefully about the topic of the Supreme Court and the judicial system. The Rebbe said to me, ‘All of your accomplishments and anything you do will not be of any help if you don’t take care of this matter. We will never be able to live here; they will always try to thwart us.’ I must tell you that it took me many years to realize how far-reaching his perception was. There is no one else who has paid a heavier price to the court system than we have. The reasonability standard and all the other precedents that the judges established, as far back as 1993, all came at our expense.”

I assumed at first that Deri was referring to a conversation with the previous Klausenberger Rebbe. Deri enjoyed a very close connection to the Rebbe in his day, partly due to his ties to two chassidim who were among the Rebbe’s closest associates: Reb Moshe Reich and Reb Itche Wolf. I remember seeing Aryeh Deri at the Klausenberger Rebbe’s funeral in Netanya in 1994. The Rebbe’s opinion of the Israeli judicial system was well-known. In his day, he established a chareidi legal organization that attempted to fight back against the judiciary, defending the religious community against their antagonism and combating the enemies of Yiddishkeit. The organization operated for several years and then dissolved, but it was a testament the Rebbe’s foresight. There is certainly a great need for such a body today. But as it turns out, I was mistaken about Aryeh Deri’s reference; he was actually referring to the current Rebbe, who shares his father’s views regarding the Israeli judiciary.

Israeli Ambassador Kicked Out of German Cafe

The polarization within Israeli society has been growing to mammoth proportions. We see this in the anti-government demonstrations with their rising levels of violence; the protestors have begun breaking the windows of cars stuck in traffic jams created by their demonstrations. I would say that their actions have moved beyond the realm of protest and can rightly be categorized as malice or madness, or some combination thereof.

The following story is absolutely true, no matter how astounding you may find it: The Israeli ambassador to Germany is a man named Ron Prosor. If you think back, you may remember that he spent four years in New York as the ambassador to the UN, between the years 2011 and 2015, where he earned a reputation as a successful diplomat. Prior to that, he spent four years as Israel’s ambassador to Great Britain. And before his stints in London and New York, he served as the director-general of the Foreign Ministry, the highest-ranking position in the ministry beneath the minister himself. In the even more distant past, Prosor worked in Israel’s embassy in Germany as a spokesperson for the embassy. From 1998 through 2002, he was a diplomatic advisor at the Israeli embassy in Washington. He is a highly respected professional and has been included in a number of Israeli delegations involved in talks with the Palestinians. His current position as the Israeli ambassador to Germany represents the closing of a circle of sorts, since his grandfather lived in the center of Berlin before the Holocaust and fled the country when the Nazis began coming to power.

Last week, Ambassador Prosor and his security entourage arrived at a Jewish-owned restaurant in Berlin. The owner of this restaurant is not only Jewish but Israeli as well, and the restaurant’s name, Café Dudu, clearly identifies it as a Jewish-owned establishment. When Ron Prosor entered the café, the Israeli owner approached him and asked him to leave.

Why did the restauranteur object to Prosor’s presence? He explained that the ambassador represents a government—the current government of Israel—that is implementing policies that he considers “invalid and manipulative.” He claimed that the Israeli government accuses anyone who criticizes Israel of anti-Semitism, and since the restaurant owner is a fierce critic of Israel (he once wrote that Israel is a “mental illness”), the Israeli government would therefore consider him anti-Semitic. As a result, he asked Prosor to leave at once. Of course, the Israeli ambassador and his companions turned on their heels and left, and the café owner proudly publicized his own actions.

Restaurants in Tel Aviv Vow to Open on Tisha B’Av

Sadly, that is not all. On erev Tisha B’Av, there was a major uproar in Israel after a group of restaurant owners in Tel Aviv announced that they planned to keep their establishments open on Tisha B’Av as a sign of protest over the passage of the judicial reform law. This move was in violation of the official law of the country, which prohibits restaurants, entertainment venues, and other places of leisure from opening on Tisha B’Av. MK Ohad Tal remarked pithily, “This is akin to a husband announcing that because he is fighting with his wife, he is going to stop talking to his mother. The restaurants are cutting themselves off from their own Jewish roots!”

The restaurant owners’ announcement made waves in the country, garnering significant media attention and causing many people to cross to the other side of the divide and announce that they had decided to fast this year for the first time in their lives! A few people also had the following reaction: Tisha B’Av can be considered the religious equivalent of Yom HaShoah, the official day of remembrance for the Holocaust that is enshrined in law. In light of that analogy, a person who decides to keep a restaurant open on Tisha B’Av as an act of provocation can be equated with the people of Mea Shearim who make a point of walking around in public during the siren on Yom HaShoah. And since that is the case, anyone who supports the restaurants’ move has no business being outraged at the actions of the people of Mea Shearim!

The truth is that the announcement itself was disingenuous, since some of these restaurants are open every year on Tisha B’Av in any event. That is simply the norm in Tel Aviv, and even though it is a terrible shame, it is also the current reality. This year, however, the owners of these establishments decided to blame their usual practice on the judicial reform. One of the restaurant owners wrote the following: “Throughout the years, we have always been open on Tisha B’Av, so we will be opening the restaurant this evening irrespective of the protests over the past few months. Pastel is located in the cultural heart of Tel Aviv, near the museum, the opera house, and the courthouse, and that has a direct impact on our essence. Out of respect for these institutions, which represent the spirit of freedom and creativity and serve as the gatekeepers for justice and democracy, I feel a profound obligation to preserve the values of individual freedom and liberalism, and to make it possible for anyone who wishes to go out and enjoy the evening to come to us.” This is very sad. According to the law, these businesses should also be fined by the Tel Aviv municipality for remaining open on Tisha B’Av. Nevertheless, the owners believed that they would not actually be fined, and even if they were to be slapped with monetary penalties, it would still be financially worthwhile for them to remain open.

One of the most prominent of the restaurant owners in this group in Tel Aviv was Chaim Cohen, who is a renowned chef in Israel. Cohen’s announcement made even more of a splash since he is a partner in the company that won the tender to operate the Knesset cafeterias this year. It was almost guaranteed that if Cohen made good on his promise to open his restaurant on Tisha B’Av, all of the religious people in the Knesset would boycott the cafeterias; this would be the beginning of a conflagration that would be very difficult to extinguish. I am not sure if anyone spoke to Cohen about this possibility, but on the following day, erev Tisha B’Av, he announced, “We are closing the Yaffo Tel Aviv restaurant tonight as a step to promote unity. This word may sound like a cliché today, but giving up on it, for me, would be like giving up on the State of Israel. I call on anyone who cares about the good of this country to calm down. I wish that all the energy that is being channeled into hate and boycotts, on the internet and in general, would be directed toward unity instead. I am not embarrassed to say that I made a mistake!”

In contrast to the patrons who spent the evening in those restaurants in Tel Aviv, tens of thousands of people made their way to the Kosel Hamaaravi to mourn over the Churban. At the end of the fast, thousands of people cried out the words of “Ani Maamin.” Parenthetically, President Yitzchok Herzog davened and recited Kinnos on the night of Tisha B’Av at Ateres Avrohom, the shul in Neve Yaakov adjacent to the site of the dreadful terror attack that occurred on a Friday night several months ago, when seven people were murdered.

Liberals Suddenly Decry Water Cannon Use

Haaretz recently began publicizing the wounded faces of demonstrators injured by policemen. In the course of doing so, the newspaper has exposed its own fairly ugly face as well.

Anyone who opened Mossaf Haaretz, the newspaper’s weekend supplement, this past weekend encountered seven large head shots emblazoned across the entirety of seven pages. Every face was given an entire page, to draw extra attention to the injuries inflicted on the protestors. Shachar Ginosar, for example, is a journalist who attests that he was thrown backward by the force of a stream of water shot by a water cannon. Even after he had fallen, the relentless spray sent him hurtling along the road, leaving him with a broken eye socket, a facial wound requiring stitches, and an injured knee. Along with all these things, of course, he got a full page in Haaretz to display his injured face. Most of the other six people whose images were featured in the publication were likewise injured on their faces, mainly their eyes and noses.

I am the last person to respond to someone else’s injuries with glee. After all is said, a Jew is a Jew, and we must never take pleasure in anyone else’s suffering, so I will not take pleasure in the fact that Haaretz had occasion to make its blatant hypocrisy and bias all the more obvious. But I would like to know where the reporters of Haaretz were when Ethiopian protestors, hilltop youth, or yeshiva bochurim were targeted by the same water cannons, with their powerful streams of water and, in some cases, foul-smelling skunk water. This is hardly the first time that the water cannons have left injuries and damage in their wake. Why didn’t the newspaper conduct a similar project after those demonstrations? Why weren’t there full-page pictures of wounded demonstrators at that time? Haaretz calls itself the newspaper for thinking people, but I have to wonder what they are thinking. Do they take the rest of us for fools?

Police to Compensate Chareidi Couple

On a related note, perhaps you remember the case of the innocent religious husband and wife who were injured when a water cannon operator maliciously directed the stream of water (or possibly skunk water) at them. The elderly couple suffered not only physical injuries but emotional distress as well. The truth is that the use of water cannons is always disproportionate and a violation of a citizen’s body and dignity that is, to borrow the Supreme Court’s terminology, unreasonable in the extreme. And when the cannon is filled with the horrifically malodorous skunk water, it only serves to compound the offense.

Shai Glick, the director of B’Tsalmo who is known for his activism in Chevron, was appalled by the couple’s suffering, as any good Jew would be. But as usual, Shai didn’t content himself merely with venting his displeasure. He is doing the same thing today that I used to do regularly many years ago: He is filing complaints. That is why I am always very sympathetic toward him. This case was taken up by Michoel Litvak, a lawyer who works with B’Tsalmo (and, I believe, Honenu as well), who sued the police in court, with B’Tsalmo paying the legal fees.

This week, a settlement was signed between Litvak, representing the couple identified as Eliezer and Hadassah, and Menachem Sebag, representing the prosecution in the Yerushalayim district. The agreement calls for the police to pay the couple 48,000 NIS in damages, a payment that it describes as “beyond the call of duty and without consenting to any of the plaintiff’s claims.” The officer who fired the stream of water at the couple, incidentally, will no longer be operating water cannons, but the criminal case against him has been closed by the Department of Internal Police Investigations, and that is inexcusable. He does not deserve to be let off the hook by any means. In any event, this verdict has not only brought justice; it also proves that it is important and necessary to file complaints and lawsuits where appropriate.

Minister from Otzma Yehudit Visits Tifrach

Rafi Rudnik, whom I have known since his days as a talmid in Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon in Givat Shaul, is an intelligent and serious young man. When he wrote to me that he had a “rare and unusual visit” to tell me about, I knew that it would justify that description. Sure enough, his story fit the bill: Yitzchok Wasserlauf, the Minister of the Negev and Galil and a member of Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party, paid a visit to the moshav of Tifrach in southern Israel. As you may be aware, Tifrach’s claim to fame is the fact that it is home to Yeshivas Tushiyah, headed by Rav Aviezer Piltz, which is more commonly known simply as Tifrach, after the community where it makes its home.

Wasserlauf was on a tour of Tifrach and paid a visit to the yeshiva. This alone was highly unusual, since the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aviezer, resolutely keeps his distance from any involvement in politics. After Mincha in the yeshiva, the minister struck up a conversation with the bochurim about the sugya they were learning and began debating with them about the topic, even walking along with them to the dining room while immersed in discussion. Toward the end of their encounter, Wasserlauf told the bochurim that he had enjoyed meeting them and had found it very exciting to speak in learning with them. “When I enter the bais medrash, I feel that I am in the most natural place for me,” he added.

Everyone was waiting to see if the minister would meet with the rosh yeshiva. Before long, that is exactly what happened. At the end of his tour, Wasserlauf met with Rav Piltz and commented about his discussion with the bochurim. The minister described himself as “a yungerman on leave” and revealed that he had been a member of a kollel before he joined the Knesset. “That gives you a significant responsibility,” the rosh yeshiva replied.

Rav Piltz gave the visiting minister a brocha to pursue his activities l’sheim Shomayim. At the end of their meeting, he thanked Wasserlauf for his extensive work on behalf of the settlements in the south, and the community of Tifrach in particular.

Rebels in the Likud

I have many more things to write about: the brutal heat wave that we have been experiencing in Israel, the electric outages that occurred on Shabbos specifically in religious communities, the major wildfires that may have been at least partially due to arson, the plague of rats and weasels in Bnei Brak, and the ongoing incitement against the chareidi community. Hateful graffiti was recently scrawled on the walls of two shuls in Israel, a type of crime that no one would ever have expected to witness in Eretz Yisroel. Of course, I should also write about the fierce outcry that arose over the initiative to pass a new Basic Law concerning Torah learning. That alone is worthy of a separate article in its own right, but I will comment briefly about it here.

The Basic Law: Torah Study is a fulfillment of one of Netanyahu’s pledges in the course of the coalition talks. Netanyahu promised both the chareidi parties, UTJ and Shas, that the law would be passed, and his time is now running out. The big question now is whether he will succeed in passing it in spite of the waves of incitement. In fact, Netanyahu discovered this week that there is opposition within his own party even to the judicial reform bills! Five members of the Knesset from the Likud party informed him this week that they will refuse to participate in the reform unless it is carried out through dialogue.

I will end this column with just one more comment. The Knesset concluded its summer session at the beginning of this week, after adding an extra day to the session on Sunday to clear up its remaining legislative business. The summer recess will continue until Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, which reminds me of my old observation: The Knesset is probably the only workplace in the world where everyone wishes each other a shanah tovah on the day before Tisha B’Av.

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