An Architect of Israel’s Judicial Reform Warns of a ‘Religious War’ in the Jewish State

Simcha Rothman insists, though, that he has no intention of backing down.

Via Wikimedia Commons
Simcha Rothman, a Knesset member with the Religious Zionist Party, January 1, 2019. Via Wikimedia Commons

One of the architects of the judicial reform plan in Israel, Simcha Rothman, warns that the protests in the country border on a “religious war” that cuts to the heart of “where Israel is going.” Mr. Rothman, who has spent decades championing judicial reform, insists that he has no intention of backing down. 

The Religious Zionist Party lawmaker made those remarks during an online conversation with more than 70 members of the Sun. The event was moderated by the publisher of the Sun, Dovid Efune, and this reporter. Mr. Rothman argued that the demonstrations are due to a “backlash” on other issues.

The backlash was enough for Prime Minister Netanyahu to pause his push for reform. The plan itself would expand the role of the Knesset in the selection of supreme court justices, as well as limit the court’s discretion to hear cases — there is currently no standing or justiciability requirements.

The reform would also curtail the ability of the attorney general to remove politicians from office. Plus, it would allow for a vote in the Knesset to “override” a high court ruling. President Biden, in reference to the reform, told reporters in Washington that he hopes Mr. Netanyahu “walks away from it.”

That doesn’t seem to faze Mr. Rothman, chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee. At the Sun event he allowed that he wouldn’t mind if outsiders found Israel a little less special and left it alone to shape its own democratic character.

Mr. Netanyahu responded to that sentiment in a statement issued in the wee hours of the morning, warning that “Israel is an independent country that takes decisions based on the will of its citizens and not based on external pressure, including from our best friends.” Mr. Biden insists that Israel “cannot continue down this road,” meaning without the reforms.

Mr. Rothman noted that as a resident of Judea and Samaria, he is accustomed to American scrutiny. “If I renovate my house,” he quipped, “the president cares about it.” In 2010, as vice president, Mr. Biden slammed the announcement of new housing projects at Jerusalem while he was visiting Israel, calling it “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.”

Mr. Rothman warned that the future of the current governing coalition, led by Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud in alliance with right wing and religious parties, hinges on the package of judicial reforms. There will be “instability” and “big problems” if that fails to be translated into law as those for whom it is a priority will “find it difficult to support the government.”

The Knesset member is troubled by the phenomenon whereby reservists in the Israel Defense Forces — and even some active duty members — indicated that if called they would, as an act of protest, not serve. Mr. Rothman insisted: “Leave the IDF out of it.” He also indicated that in making common cause with those hostile to the Jewish state, opponents of the plan have “recklessly created a campaign against the state of Israel.”

The New York Sun

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