January 18, 2023

Israel’s Government and Policies: An Update

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

We’re closely following current events here in Israel and remain committed to bringing you information and updates on the new government. Please see below for updates from our partners and representative on the ground.Since the last update on the formation of the new Israeli government, the first major initiative of the new government has been put forward. Led by the new Minister of Justice Yariv Levin, the government has introduced a set of proposals to alter the balance of power between Israel’s executive and legislative branches of government – which are linked in Israel through the parliamentary system of government – and the Supreme Court. These bills are exposing sharp divisions between the governing coalition and the opposition, as well as among the Israeli public. Here are details about Minister Levin’s statement at the press conference where he announced the plan. For a more detailed analysis of the changes under discussion, see here. In addition, you can read about the next steps in the legislative process here.A number of important Israeli officials have spoken out against the changes, including current Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, former President Reuven Rivlin, and Avi Himi, the Chair of the Israel Bar Association. Former Prime Minister Yair Lapid wrote this criticism of the proposals, and you can see details about responses from other prominent Israelis here and here. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said that he is doing his best to reach an agreement that is acceptable to everyone. You might also note the interesting role being played by Harvard Law Professor and pro-Israel activist Alan Dershowitz.On Saturday night, some 80,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to attend a mass protest against the planned changes. The next morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the following statement in response to the protests and the intense public debate:“Several months ago there was (also) a huge demonstration…millions of people went into the streets in order to vote in the elections. One of the main topics that they voted on was reforming the judicial system…. There are also many who did not vote for us who knew and agreed that it was necessary to make fundamental changes in the judicial system. And indeed, this call has been made over the years, from a long series of government ministers from across the political spectrum… and nobody thought then that it was the ‘end of democracy.’ The truth of the matter is what we are seeking to do will restore the balance between the authorities that existed in Israel for 50 years, and which is maintained today in all western democracies.“I am convinced that… we will complete the reform legislation in a way that will correct what is necessary, will fully protect individual rights and restore public confidence in the judicial system, which needs this reform so much.” The issue of the balance between the government/Knesset and the Supreme Court is not a new one, and many political leaders and legal experts from different parties have called for changes over the years. In his remarks on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out examples of some of these former leaders, including former Justice Ministers Tommy Lapid (father of Opposition Leader Yair Lapid) and Haim Ramon from the Labor Party, as well as Ya’akov Ne’eman, and Daniel Friedman, both noted legal experts. However, the fact that Minister Levin’s proposals are coming forward at a time when many issues that the government is committed to addressing could, under the current structure, end up before the Supreme Court, has contributed significantly to the intensity of the debate. Read more about this here.During recent meetings with our Jewish Federations of North America in Israel, government officials made clear their intention to address the issue of judicial oversight, pointing out that this subject was in the election platforms of every party that joined the coalition. Of course, that does not mean that all parties agree on every aspect of the bills, nor does it prevent the bills from being amended in response to concerns raised by the Israeli public. However, we do expect that some version of the proposals will ultimately pass. Yedidia Stern, president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, and professor emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University, has just published this piece, entitled, “No to Levin’s revolution, yes to changes in the legal system.” Our Jewish Federation system supports the work of the Jewish People Policy Institute. The balanced approach Professor Stern puts forward likely comes close to the type of compromise that might be acceptable to many who oppose the government’s proposals, though it is unfortunately the case that the current political environment and make-up of the governing coalition may make such compromise impossible. We’ll continue to track the legislative process closely and will certainly share with the Knesset members and with you how the various proposed changes might affect issues of deep concern to the Jewish community in North America. In addition to our previous messages, statements and webinars (view a Federations’ call on the implications of the new government as well as a call specifically focused on the challenges faced by LGBTQ communities in Israel), our national Jewish Federations will also offer two additional programs in the coming weeks, both of which will be sponsored in partnership with the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI):

  • On Thursday, January 26 at 1 pm ET, we’ll examine the growing debate in Israel over the Law of Return, which gives anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent the automatic right to immigrate to Israel. A number of members of the new Israeli government seek to remove the “grandparent clause,” and the issue appears in signed coalition agreements. We’ll do a deep dive into this issue and the potential consequences for different communities worldwide of any changes to the law. Register here.
  • On Thursday, February 9 at 1 pm ET, we’ll focus on the relationship between religion and state in Israel. Some members of the new Israeli government are determined to make changes to the current situation; this issue has also been included in signed coalition agreements. Join us to explore which changes may be made, along with the possible ramifications.