An unreasonable filibuster
Israel’s elected representatives wasted over 40 hours in a filibuster of proportions previously unknown in this country. The document that concretizes and enshrines this travesty, this cynical manipulation of accepted Knesset protocol, is permanently available on the Knesset website.
On Wednesday, July 19, the Knesset Law Committee voted for the second time on the 27655 reservations presented by the opposition regarding the bill seeking to limit, in Section 15 of the Basic Law: Judiciary, the “grounds of reasonableness.” The assessment of whether or not government behavior is “reasonable,” has become a factor in government review decisions handed down by the Supreme Court and has been used to prevent or promote particular actions even if the law books do not provide support for the court’s subjective opinion. The coalition bill seeks to redress this imbalance of powers between the elected executive branch of the government and the unelected judiciary.
Moving forward with the reasonableness amendment has aroused the ire of the Opposition and the streets are ablaze with enraged protestors and the occasional burning tire. Protestors argue that the reasonableness amendment will open the door to dictatorship and a theocratic state.
However, on page 68 in the book he published in 2021, Gideon Sa’ar, leader of the New Hope Party and a major agitator against the reasonableness clause, wrote:
We must cease the existing tradition, according to which judges can invalidate laws in any court of law, with any panel of judges, and upon any grounds. It must be determined that only the Supreme Court can invalidate laws, and only with a special majority, on an expanded panel, and only upon grounds based unequivocally on existing laws. [my translation and emphasis]
It is hard to believe that he has made such a turn around that he now thinks that the reasonableness clause will be the downfall of Israeli democracy. But he is loudly proclaiming this along with the rest of the opposition.
So now let us stop a moment and think about what it takes to make a list of 27655 reservations to a single-paragraph bill proposal: 54 words, to be precise. It reminds me of my feeble attempts to write proper Hebrew. Like many Israelis who did not go to school here, I make quite a few spelling mistakes. I have been known to get four letters wrong in a five-letter word. But to conceive of 27655 objections to a law that is merely 54 words long must take enormous creativity. And many paid hours on the part of parliamentary aides.
Generally, reservations suggest changes of language, deletion of particular words, or addition of other words to the written text of the proposal. And we know how a single word can change the entire meaning of a text and, therefore, we should not scoff at the effort put in to get it right. After all, we are aware of the Balfour Declaration declaring the intention to establish in Palestine a national home (not state – another deliberate choice of wording) for the Jewish People – what a difference the “in” makes as opposed to establishing Palestine as a national home for the Jewish People!
But surely there cannot be 27655 relevant suggestions for word changes to the bill at hand, can there?
First, let’s look at suggested additions defining the purpose of the proposed law:
The purpose of the law is to create happiness and love for one another.
The purpose of the law is to eat tasty foods at any given moment.
The purpose of the law is to prepare retirement funds for lawyers.
The purpose of the law is to explain to the public why it is important to stand on one’s head.
There is a serious one or two here as well:
The purpose of the law is to appoint a criminal as a minister in the government.
The purpose of the law is to increase the status of the executive branch and shrink the status of the judiciary.
The purpose of the law is to destroy the Zionist Enterprise.
The purpose of the law is to generate fear.
Well, that’s an auspicious start. I thought we were done with the purposes of the law, but it goes on:
The purpose of the law is to distribute free popcorn in the country.
The purpose of the law is to promote the Prime Minister’s wife.
You get the idea. There are about 500 suggested purposes of the law.
You may be surprised to learn that the great bulk of the reservations deals with paragraphs of the Basic Law: Judiciary that are totally unrelated to the amendment to Paragraph 15 under consideration here.
In Paragraph 1 (b1), of the principal law, in place of “religious court” will come “bathroom”.
In Paragraph 4(a), instead of the “President of the State,” “the agricultural consultant for Polynesia” will be written.
In Paragraph 4(b), instead of “Supreme Court President,” will come “Magic Potions Teacher.”
In Paragraph 6, instead of “Judge,” will write “car mechanic.” (now we’re up to reservation 6602)
In Paragraph 7 (4), instead of “chair of the committee,” will come the words “an Israeli unicorn.”
In Paragraph 14, following the words, “the judge,” “who belongs to a troupe of singing judges” will be added (and now we’re at 13406 and we still have not reached the section related to the bill under consideration).
While most of the reservations are a group effort among all opposition parties, there are some put forward by individual parties: Yesh Atid with 200, Yisrael Beitenu with 3, Hadash-Ta’al with 177, National Unity with 2, and Religious Zionism with 1.
And finally, at number 13994, we get to reservations related to the bill in question itself. There is an impressive set of 5153 relevant reservations or 18% of the whole.
The first one is telling, I think: it suggests changing the venue of the Supreme Court from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The next one suggests Marrakesh.
Perhaps the most honest reservation that does not shame the one who put it forward is that by Hadash-Ta’al. They simply write: “The proposal will be deleted.” All the others thought up over 27K despicable ways to say the same thing.
Knesset insider Jeremy Saltan writes in a closed group:
27655 objections. Way more than the bill on changing the selection of judges. Way more than the state budget. Way more than any bill in the history of the Knesset (Germany payments, peace agreements with Egypt/Jordan, Oslo, disengagement). Should the reasonability clause go down in history as the most controversial and biggest filibustered piece of legislation in Israeli history? This is what should break all records?
Instead [of relating to substance], we saw a process where the opposition wasted the opportunity to actually talk about the bill’s language. [quoted with permission]
Saltan notes that there were alternatives offered by academics both within the committee and outside of it, but the opportunity was not taken to “focus on content and what the right balance could look like.”
If the handling of the reasonableness clause in committee is an example of how the judicial reform talks in the President’s House were conducted, it is no wonder the talks blew up. If, on the other hand, the talks at the President’s House were serious and respectful, I am sure the public would have liked to have seen that, to have a model of proper conduct on the part of our elected representatives. The talks should not have been conducted in secret. They should be as open as Knesset debates on all but classified security issues.
Moreover, if MKs are not embarrassed by having the public witness their shameful display of childish behavior, paid for by the taxes on our hard-earned salaries, then something in the norms expected of them has to change. I suggest more public scrutiny of their behaviour on an ongoing basis.
After all, so many caring citizens are out there in the streets, blocking traffic for hours and crying out to save our democracy before we supposedly fall victim to the machinations of this coalition. They should be aware of the fact that one of their own (Sa’ar) actually implied implementing a stronger “reasonableness” clause than the one that will be before the Knesset on Monday and then joined in the nay-sayers, passively condoning the most shameful behaviour we have seen yet.
I wonder if you could bear to read the 27655 reservations, one after the other, without your blood boiling in rage at the language and the tone and its implied absolute disrespect for the Knesset and for the electorate. Equally disrespectful is MK Ze’ev Elkin’s (New Hope Party) request that each reservation be given time for in-depth consideration. THOSE reservations, MK Elkin? Seriously?
Feature Image Credit: Screenshot from the Law Committee vote under discussion in this article.