Israeli Coalition Negotiations Face Stumbling Blocks
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Israeli Coalition Negotiations Face Stumbling Blocks

Many Israelis and American Jewish lawyers express criticism with proposals.

Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

As former and designated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggles to complete the negotiations that will form his next coalition government, the Israel Democracy Institute released its latest survey results indicating that the country’s citizens are not liking what they expect to see from the next government.

This was the first survey produced by the Jerusalem-based thinktank, co-founded, and still chaired by Bernie Marcus of Atlanta, since the Nov. 1 election which gave Netanyahu’s Likud Party and his right-wing and ultra-religious party allies a majority in the next 120-seat legislature, or Knesset.

Summarized by IDI’s Tamar Hermann and Or Anabi, the survey indicated that only 43 percent of the respondents are satisfied with the election results, compared to 52 percent who are dissatisfied. Among Jewish respondents, the two groups are not strikingly different, while a large majority of Israeli Arabs are dissatisfied with the results.

Netanyahu was handed the mandate to cobble together a new coalition by President Isaac Herzog. The initial time frame concluded at midnight on Dec. 10, but Herzog granted the former prime minister 10 more days to accomplish his negotiations. The IDI survey showed that about half of the respondents were interested in those talks, compared with 43 percent who are uninterested. Interest among Jewish Israelis was higher, at 57 percent than among Israeli Arabs at 40.5 percent.

There have been several stumbling blocks that Netanyahu has needed to bridge to conclude his coalition negotiations. Israeli media reports that he has agreed to appoint right-wing Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir in a new post called national security minister, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich as finance minister, and ultra-Orthodox Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri initially as both interior and health minister but switching to the finance ministry after two years.

Other challenging and controversial obstacles for Netanyahu include several legislative proposals. In its survey, the IDI assessed the level of public support for each of the following proposals: allowing ministers to appoint their own ministerial legal advisors; amending the law so that men and women could be separated at public events, in education, and in public services; increasing benefit payments to “Kollel” students; awarding legal status to illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories, known as “young settlements”; canceling the reform to privatize kashrut services; canceling the “grandchild clause” in the Law of Return, and placing restrictions on the eligibility of Jews and their children to immigrate to Israel; and canceling the recognition of Reform conversions for the purposes of the Law of Return.

American attorney Alan Dershowitz argues that one of the proposals contemplated by the next coalition government “would be a disaster for Israel and should be strongly opposed by all who care about justice.”

As in previous surveys, the IDI again found that a majority of Israelis believe that the Supreme Court should retain the authority to strike down laws passed by the Knesset if they conflict with Israel’s basic laws, which basically serve as the country’s constitution. According to reports on the coalition negotiations, that would change under the new government.

While the Israeli public appears against many of these proposed changes, it is not alone. The American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, a non-governmental organization that represents more than 500 American-Jewish lawyers, issued a strong statement warning that attempts to limit judicial independence and enabling Knesset overrides, particularly in relation to human rights, “may endanger public trust in both Israel’s legal system and its democracy.”

In an editorial, Israeli newspaper Haaretz warned that the override clause would leave almost no checks and balances against the power of the majority and would turn Israel into an empty democracy in which the majority could squash minority rights.

The organization’s criticism of the coalition’s proposals follows an opinion piece written by long-time pro-Israel American lawyer, Alan Dershowitz. Calling the override proposal a “terrible mistake,” Dershowitz noted that “democracy requires equality and the Supreme Court of Israel has been an important guarantor of equality and other basic rights essential to a democracy…The override proposal would be a disaster for Israel and should be strongly opposed by all who care about justice.”

Unless Netanyahu requests another extension on his coalition building and receives it, his new government must be completed by Dec. 20.

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