My new article on whether Israel needs a constitution is up at the Hadassah magazine site. The short version of my answer: In principle, yes, we need one. In practice, enacting one could be more dangerous than going without. The longer version:
As Israel’s justice minister, Daniel Friedmann made virtually no progress in pushing his signature reforms of the justice system. But during two years in office, the 72-year-old law professor succeeded, quite unintentionally, in teaching two lessons: The first is that Israel really does need a constitution to protect its democratic foundation. The second, ironically, is that trying to enact a constitution is a risky business. Done wrong, it could endanger the delicate structure of Israeli democracy.
Friedmann was appointed to the cabinet by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in February 2007, after his predecessor, Haim Ramon, was convicted of indecent behavior for forcing a kiss on a woman soldier. Friedmann was a surprise choice. He was a Tel-Aviv University professor rather than a politician. While the justice minister normally acts as the guardian of the courts within government debates, Friedmann was a vocal critic of the judiciary. From the moment he took office, his declared goal was to reduce the power of the judges, and especially to limit the Supreme Court’s authority to review and overturn laws.
A brief trip through Israeli history will explain why that matters so much. When the first Knesset was elected in 1949, it was supposed to be a constitutional congress, in accordance with the United Nations’ 1947 decision to partition Palestine and with Israel’s own Declaration of Independence. Instead, acceding to founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s wishes, the Knesset chose not to frame a constitution. Israel became a rarity: a modern state without a fundamental charter that delineates the structure of government and puts limits on its powers.
There are two standard tellings of why Ben-Gurion did not want a constitution, explains Yedidia Stern, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “The first story is that there was secular-religious disagreement on the issues of religion and state, and they couldn’t reach a consensus,” he says. Orthodox parties, say some histories, felt that the constitution of a Jewish state must necessarily be based on Torah, which secularists predictably rejected.
“A stronger explanation,” says Stern, is that “Ben-Gurion didn’t want a constitution.”…
Read the full article here. Come back to South Jerusalem to comment.
Hadassah Magazine, by the way, has taken a small step toward the Seattle Solution: Hit by the economic downturn and the Madoff scam, Hadassah has decided to cut the print magazine to a bimonthly, while putting some content online without printing it in hard copy. So this piece is online only. One day, will you tell your children that you once read news on paper? And will they believe you?