President Reuven Rivlin has called for new legislation that will clearly define the authority of the legislature and that of the judiciary.
He spoke at a ceremony for new appointments to the Military Court of Appeals at the President’s Residence on Thursday, against the backdrop of increasing tensions between the Knesset and the judiciary, and attempts to prevent courts from overriding decisions by the legislature.
Pushing hardest against the powers of the judiciary are Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both of Bayit Yehudi, who say the Supreme Court has often ruled based on ideology rather than on law.
Their opponents claim the Supreme Court is the guardian of democracy and that to deprive it of that status would be akin to stabbing democracy in the back.
Supreme Court intervention has to a large extent protected asylum-seekers in Israel, as well as certain Palestinians on issues of property and other matters.
Rivlin said criticism of a judicial ruling is desirable and sometimes even essential, “but there must be a basic constitutional law that will once and for all delineate the powers of the legislature versus those of the judiciary.”
Such legislation should anchor the Supreme Court’s authority and its right to examine laws passed by the Knesset – but with certain limitations, the president said. This should be done in a manner that respects all the branches of government, he said, and should ensure that they are equally balanced. This can only be done through mutual discussion, understanding and agreement, said Rivlin.
As for the IDF, Rivlin emphasized that it is a people’s army. “The IDF is not just our army. It is us.”
He attributed this factor to the strength and stamina of the IDF, and declared that it was the mission of the two new judges, as people who rose through the military ranks, to protect this strength and stamina, by remaining true to the law and only to the law.
In contrast to other units of the army he said, the military judge is not subservient to military hierarchy, but only to the law.
In introducing the two new judges, Maj. Haim Belillti and Maj. Anat Shahar-Weinberg, to Rivlin, Brig.-Gen. Doron Peles, the president of the Military Court of Appeals, noted that in Shahar-Weinberg’s case, it was a combination of joy and sorrow. She had been sitting shiva for her father when notified of her promotion.
Peles, like Rivlin, stressed the priority of the law above all else. Citing democracy as one of the great accomplishments of the State of Israel, Peles said that one of the foundations of democracy is that all people are equal before the law. “As officers in the IDF,” he said of himself and fellow judges who were present, “we have the privilege of upholding the law.”
Army judges, like those in the civilian courts, deal with issues that are at the heart of the nation, said Peles.
He then went on to speak about a recently introduced initiative whereby soldiers who have been in prison, but have expressed remorse, have behaved well, and have voiced a desire to return to active service, will have their slates wiped clean of their prison records so that on completing their stint in the army, they will be able to lead their lives as productive citizens.
This is still a pilot project, said Peles, but he anticipated that it would enable many young people to move comfortably back into mainstream society.