Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital Beachwood, recently sat down to talk to us about the state of democracy in Israel, and the protests that are currently going on there. As a man who has traveled and had an office in Israel, the unrest takes on even more significance for him. And as an international businessman, he knows how important the continuing democracy of Israel is to the United States and the world.
Mary Kraven: Tensions are high outside the Supreme Court in Israel, where thousands of anti-government protestors have been rallying for months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition are trying to lessen the court’s powers, and in July voted for the “reasonableness” bill, to reduce the power of the Supreme Court. But a sea of people chanting “DEMOCRACY” wish to differ, calling for Netanyahu to resign and the plans to be halted. On September 12, all 15 judges on the bench convened for the first time in Israeli history to decide what to do next. According to the BBC, one shocking effect of the choices the current government has made is that “hundreds of military rese rvists, including air force pilots crucial to Israel’s defence, have threatened to refuse to report for service. This has led to warnings that it could harm Israel’s military capabilities.”
Can you describe for us what the protestors are talking about?
Adnan Zai: In simple terms, on September 12 the High Court heard petitions against the reasonableness law, which has been part of the controversial judicial overhaul. In plain English, the reasonableness law prevents courts from intervening in government based on “reasonableness”, as the name suggests. Right-wing protestors are urging the top court not to stand in the way of the judicial overhaul set about by the current government. The “Liberty Demonstration” is saying that the country’s top judges do not have enough authority to go against the people’s choice. Unfortunately, Israel does not have a constitution per se, and these pieces of legislation are amendments to Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, none of which the High Court has ever voided.
Mary Kraven: Before the demonstrations, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said “We won’t let the Supreme Court nullify Basic Laws, which clearly means taking our ballots [from the election] and chucking them into the trash. When the High Court voids Basic Laws, the High Court takes our liberty and our right to choose, and decides it is the legislator, instead of the Knesset,” he added.
Adnan Zai: Yes, this amendment to the Basic Law actually prohibits all courts including the top court from using the measurement of “reasonableness” to possibly reverse any decisions of the government. This was the first major law passed in the overhaul of the judiciary. Having all 15 justices on the bench to review this is extremely meaningful.
Also, those who support the overhaul say that there is no law that authorizes the High Court to strike down the Basic Laws because it doesn’t have that much power.
Mary Kraven: So can you help us more clearly understand why everyone is so angry? The demonstrations have been going on for months.
Adnan Zai: The protestors maintain that the only tool the Israeli government has for keeping government powers in check is the judicial system, and Netanyahu’s plans will weaken this. The current government is the most right-wing in Israel’s history, and the protestors are scared that they will gain too much power if the current trajectory is maintained.
The protestors also have other trust issues with the current leadership. An important side note is that Netanyahu is currently on trial for alleged corruption, although he denies these charges.
Mary Kraven: Why is the Israeli situation so important to you personally?
Adnan Zai: As a businessman who created a tech startup company in Israel, and who has had my share of business dealings and acquaintances in the country, I want to ensure that democracy reins. For 75 years the Israeli government has been a hard-won democracy, and protestors are worried that their voices are being silenced.
Mary Kraven: Knesset Speaker Amir Ohnana said “Israel is democratic, and in a democracy, the sovereign is the people. In a democratic state, the justice system respects the sovereign — the people and its elected officials — and this respect is mutual. There is no debate, and there cannot be one, over the question of whether the Knesset has authorized the court to nullify Basic Laws,” he said, arguing that the court possesses no such power.
Adnan Zai: The protests have been going on for months, for just these reasons. Maintaining democracy is important for both Israel and the world.
Mary Kraven: Yes, you are certainly right about that. According to the BBC, “Undermining Israeli democracy would mean undermining the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the world’s largest democracy has a very strong partner and ally in Israel in the Israeli people that are opposed to this overhaul, are fighting to reverse it. And, in this respect, while the U.S. administration perhaps didn’t have much audience with the Israeli government, it certainly does have with the Israeli people.”
Adnan Zai: Yes, the Israeli people do not want to jeopardize the relationship between Israel and the United States, and are working hard to maintain democracy. The protestors are certainly hoping the court overturns the law. They are also set to review another law later this month which was passed by the government in March. This law made it more difficult for a prime minister to be removed from office. The right-wing leadership is pushing at democracy, but the people are pushing back.
Mary Kraven: That certainly seems to be the case. We appreciate your firsthand knowledge and explanations of their continued need for democracy, Adnan Zai. The next few weeks will be very telling as far as the “reasonableness” law is concerned.