Prominent American lawyer Alan Dershowitz, long a strong supporter of Israel’s policies on the international stage, said Sunday that he cannot defend the sweeping judicial reforms planned by Israel’s new government.
The proposals call for a review aimed at restricting the powers of the judiciary, including allowing lawmakers to easily re-legislate laws that the Supreme Court has struck down and drastically limiting the ability of judges to strike down laws in the first place. The reforms would also give politicians more power over how judges are chosen and limit the independence of government legal advisers, among other measures.
The legal reforms were essential to consolidate the current coalition government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and made up of ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox conservative parties that seek to advance their agenda through less judicial oversight.
Dershowitz said the reforms pose a threat to civil liberties and minority rights in Israel.
“If I was in Israel, I would join the protests,” Dershowitz told Army Radio, referring to a protest in tel aviv on Saturday against the reforms that drew thousands.
“It will make it much more difficult for people like me who are trying to defend Israel in the international court of public opinion to defend them effectively,” he said. “It would be a tragedy to see the Supreme Court weakened.”
However, Dershowitz stressed that there is a “great confusion” between democracy and civil liberties and that “Israel’s democracy is not in danger; in fact, the reforms are designed to improve democracy, majority rule.”
“What is in danger is civil liberties, minority rights,” he said. There is “a direct conflict between pure democracy, where the Knesset rules… and minority rights and civil rights that the Supreme Court is designed to protect,” she explained.
Dershowitz refused to compare Israel to authoritarian regimes and predicted that the Jewish state will always be a majority-ruling democratic country, but expressed concern about “the danger of it becoming less sensitive to civil liberties and minority rights.” ”.
It was unusual to hear Dershowitz, who has written best-selling books supporting Israeli policies and is close to Netanyahu, oppose the proposed reforms so strongly. Dershowitz said that he had recently informed Netanyahu of his “very strong and negative points of view” of the reforms, saying they would also expose Israel to legal challenges from global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.
The reforms could also help Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, evade conviction or see his trial disappear altogether. Dershowitz said he believed Netanyahu agreed to the reforms not to save himself from conviction, but to appease his new governing coalition partners.
Critics accuse the government of declaring war on the legal system, saying the plan will upend Israel’s system of checks and balances and undermine its democratic institutions by giving absolute power to the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history.
The government says the plan strikes the right balance between executive and judicial powers while simplifying governance and legislation.
Dershowitz said the proposed reform “doesn’t strike the right balance, it gives too much power to the majority” and that he wants Netanyahu “not to let his right wing dictate what the balance should be.”