Statement: Netanyahu’s Assault on Democracy

Americans for Peace Now (APN) is alarmed by the radical judicial overhaul announced yesterday by Israel’s new Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a set of legislative initiatives aimed at limiting the power of the Israeli Supreme Court and the government’s legal advisors.

The plan’s objective is to dramatically diminish the judicial and legal checks and balances on Israel’s executive and legislative branches, dealing a severe blow to Israel’s democracy.

We urge the Biden administration to make clear that anti-democratic steps such as this are a severe breach the value-based foundation of the US-Israel alliance.   

APN’s President and CEO Hadar Susskind said: “This attack on Israeli democracy cannot be allowed to stand. We urge our Israeli brothers and sisters to reject this plan loudly and clearly. We urge the Biden administration to unequivocally express its opposition to this initiative. Friends don’t let friends shatter their democracy.

“In addition to the immense unchecked power that the proposed initiative would grant to the Israeli government to crush dissent and discriminate against minorities within Israel, these measures would also grant the government and the Knesset almost unlimited power to further oppress Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. While very far from perfect, Israel’s Supreme Court has been an institution where Palestinians could seek justice. Occasionally, if all too rarely, they found it. Once the Levin plan is implemented, the arbitrary and repressive West Bank occupation will be further entrenched.”

The assault on the judicial branch came less than a week after the new government was sworn in, a week in which Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist ultra-Orthodox government already began to implement its agenda of occupation and discrimination. This week started with a Knesset vote to change a constitutional Basic Law that banned convicted felons sentenced to prison from becoming government ministers, in order to accommodate incoming Interior Minister Arye Deri. It included a visit to the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque by Itamar Ben-Gvir, which prompted wall-to-wall international condemnation. It included a decision, in defiance of US opposition, to repeal the 2005 Disengagement Law and legalize an illegal West Bank outpost on privately owned Palestinian land. It also included numerous expressions of contempt by incoming government ministers for the rule of law, for international law, for minority rights and for basic democratic norms.

It is hard not to suspect the diminishing of judicial and legal checks and balances also serves Citizen Netanyahu by threatening an override of a judicial opinion in favor of a conviction in his trial for bribery, fraud and breach of the public interest.

The incoming Israeli government’s first week in office is no mistake. Its members have told us who they are and what they will do. Believe them.

Now we, American Jewish leaders, our elected officials and everyone else, need to respond accordingly. It is time to say publicly what has been said in private. It is time to act. It is time to fight for a future of peace and justice.