Israel’s new, extremely right wing governing coalition has announced its intent to dramatically curb certain powers exercised for decades by the Israeli High Court. This has given rise to roiling domestic discord and public protest over threats to democracy. International media outlets and global leaders have expressed outrage at Israel over the proposed reforms, having found yet another reason to chastise the Jewish state. If you care about Israel, you are probably aware of the controversy. What you may not know, however, is that left leaning media outlets and liberal institutional elites have highly exaggerated the issue, fueling much of the high-pitched angst and anger. There is another side to the story that must be considered.
To be sure, Israel needs to reform its judiciary (and entire system of government). We’ve personally been praying for judicial reform in our very liberal High Court for many years according to Isaiah 1:25-26: “I will turn My hand against you and thoroughly purge away your dross…Then I will restore your judges as at the first and your counselors as at the beginning. Then you [Jerusalem] will be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”
The matter is complex, but we have reduced the issues to their basics in this article. To pray for Israel with discernment, we need to understand the relevant historical, legal, political and biblical context of the controversy.
What is Democracy?
The word democracy comes from the Greek words demos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning power. Democracy can be thought of as “power of the people,” or a way of governing which depends on the will of the people. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines democracy as “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” In practice, there are many different types and expressions of democracy in nations around the world, including Israel.
Like any other form of government, an intrinsic and unavoidable problem belies all democracies and all democratic governments. That universal problem is sin. In a democratic state where people are inevitably beset by sin, they vote according to their personal interests and opinions tainted by sin. As a result, democracy does not necessarily lead to righteousness or biblical justice. If the people vote for lawless injustice, for example, then lawless injustice they shall have. The point is, democracy can be a good form of government and achieve social justice only where the people are good and free to elect good representation.
Discerning Divine Shaking
Aware of the inevitability of sin, America’s founding fathers foresaw the necessity of a strong commitment to biblical values as prerequisite to the success of democracy and social justice. For that reason, they composed a constitution enshrining biblical values and principles of governance. The US Constitution is a type of covenant, immutable and sacrosanct. Other nations have since adopted other constitutions, also regarded as authoritative, immutable, and the highest law of the land.
Israel is unique among democratic nations in that it does not have a constitution. Instead, it has what are called “Basic Laws.” These 13 Basic Laws contain statements of national values and policies and set up a broad framework for our legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. However, a Basic Law is not necessarily more authoritative than, or superior to, a nonBasic law passed by the legislature (Knesset). Some Basic Laws have been changed many times by a mere, simple majority vote of the Knesset.
In May 1948, Israel’s Declaration of Independence called for a constitution to be written and adopted within a few months. But the country could not only not agree on the scope or terms of a proposed constitution; our founding leaders could not even agree that a constitution was necessary. To this day, no coalition has been able to agree to a single set of principles, values and terms needed for a constitution; therefore, we have none. As Israeli society increasingly polarizes, the prospects for establishing a formal constitution increasingly diminish.
With no agreed upon and recognized highest law of the land, in some respects Israel resembles its ancient forebears. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit [or what was right in their own eyes.]” (Judges 21:25) In the current judicial reform crisis, the shaky reality we’ve established for ourselves is being exposed. Meanwhile, God waits, in loving mercy, for us to wholeheartedly turn and seek Him as never before. From the people who once proclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar,” let it soon be declared, “We have no king but Yeshua.” (John 19:15)
Taking Back the House
Meanwhile, in the absence of a constitution, the Israeli Supreme Court (called High Court) has unilaterally amassed to itself jurisdiction and power which framers of the original Basic Laws never intended it to possess. In the 1990’s, former Chief Justice Barak launched a “constitutional revolution” of judicial activism and policy-making according to liberal-leftist values espoused by High Court justices. Conservatives accused Barak of usurping power from the Knesset without any democratic check or balance. For over 25 years the consistently left leaning High Court has, to be sure, protected certain important, personal freedoms for certain groups and issued some good decisions. But High Court justices have also given legal protection to what most Bible believers, including more than a few Orthodox Jews, would call abominable sin and policies advancing globalist values.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that much of the brouhaha over Israel’s proposed judicial reform has been generated by influential leftist elites in Israeli institutions and media. Especially disconcerting to the elites is the so-called “override clause” of the proposal. The override clause would put a stop to the High Court’s policy of striking down and overriding laws passed by the Knesset with which it disagrees. It would give the Knesset the power, by simple majority vote, to override any decision by the High Court that would otherwise override that same law.
To be sure, the prospect of an extremist Knesset overriding a High Court decision by simple majority vote seems disconcerting. But for perspective, both Canada and the UK have very similar rules. A little acknowledged reality, moreover, is that the proposed override clause (and other highly controversial clauses) will likely be modified. There will likely be some compromise. Our current right wing coalition will likely be tempered by our very vocal and economically powerful left wing. Influential voices from the reasonable center will arise. More importantly, Prime Minister Netanyahu, himself a centrist and master negotiator, does not want to see the country implode or erupt into civil war.
There is reason to believe that with concerted prayer, contemplated judicial reforms will not be as extreme, and not pass as quickly or entirely, as many fear. Democracy is still quite alive here, and literally demonstrably so. This is not to say that if extremists remain in power for long, there would not be an erosion of democratic freedoms, including freedom for Jews to worship Yeshua and the civil rights of peaceful Arab Israelis. Eventually, that may well occur. And “eventually” may come sooner than later.
Just as this article was to be posted, news broke that Israel’s Attorney General has determined PM Netanyahu may not participate, even indirectly, in his coalition’s proposed judicial reforms. Any involvement on his part, she said, would be a conflict of interest due to the criminal charges pending against him. Her warning is said to be legally binding.
Without Mr. Netanyahu’s restraining influence, the radical reformation feared by liberals could be more likely to occur. Meanwhile, the Minister of Justice has condemned the A-G’s warning and accused her of a conflict of interest. The Prime Minister has not yet officially commented. Today’s political confusion and quarreling is but further evidence that Israel sorely needs a national constitution — and the Lord.
Attorney David Friedman, who served as US Ambassador to Israel under President Trump, accurately points out:
“Those who claim that limiting the power of the Israeli Supreme Court is an attack on democracy are exactly wrong – it is the Knesset, not the Court, that reflects the democratic will of the Israeli people. Indeed, it is the Court that puts a brake on the exercise of that will….The Israeli Supreme Court has arrogated to itself all of the powers of the US Supreme Court with none of the corresponding limitations, restrictions or burdens. The Israeli Supreme Court also has far exceeded the powers that most parliamentary democracies afford their courts… As one who knows Israel as well as any outsider, I see the current path [of the Court] as dangerous and untenable. The intellectual dishonesty permeating many of the arguments is quite harmful and the shrill rhetoric is breeding internal disunity and external embarrassment.”
Mr. Friedman urges Israel, in an almost plaintive tone, to adopt a formal constitution by which essential matters of checks and balances can finally be put to rest.
Prominent Israeli professor and political commentator Gadi Taub agrees with David Friedman. In a recent interview with All-Israel News, he states, “This [proposed] reform is about to end the jurists’ autocracy, the rule of judges, the oligarchy that enables Israel’s … liberal elite to hold power. So, this is not the end of democracy. It is the end of their tyranny… Currently, there is no limit to the Supreme Court’s power…There is nothing that the court sees to be outside its purview.”
Professor Taub alludes to a “deep state” influence over the High Court and its leftist supporters. He adds that because Israel does not have a written constitution, no law or document gives the High Court the sweeping powers it has assumed for itself. This lack of a constitution, he says, is the crux of the problem.
Scriptures to Prayerfully Proclaim
Israel needs a judiciary that can withstand political pendulum swings and serve as a pillar of justice. With our people more polarized than ever in our modern history, the adoption of a constitution for righteous government reform seems an impossibility. But with God nothing is impossible. Perhaps He will mercifully give us opportunity as a nation to choose justice before the period of end times tribulation that seems not too far off.
Pray with us, according to Isaiah 1:25-27, that God’s hand will mercifully remove the dross from Israel, turn us back to Him, give us good and wise judges and leaders, and restore us as a light to the nations for His glory. Pray that PM Netanyahu will turn humbly to God for protection, wisdom, strength and favor. Other specific topics and Scriptures (among many others) to prayerfully proclaim for our government include:
Psalm 133:1,3: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.”
Peace among leaders in Jerusalem
Psalm 122: 7-8: “May there be peace within your [Jerusalem’s] walls and security within your citadels…I will say, ‘Peace be within you’.”
Breaking the power of witchcraft, freemasonry and globalism off our government
Numbers 23:23: “There is no divination against Jacob; no sorcery against Israel. Instead it will be said of Israel, ‘See what God has done’.”
Micah 5:12: “I will destroy your witchcraft and you will no longer cast spells.”
Jeremiah 30:8-9: “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will break the yoke off their [Israel’s] necks and will tear off their bonds; no longer will foreigners [the nations] enslave them. Instead, they will serve the Lord their God’…”
Rulership of YHVH
Psalm 125:3: “The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous reach out their hands to do iniquity.”
Psalm 110:2: “The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as are the watercourses; He turns it whichever way He wills.”
Isaiah 9:6: “The government shall be upon His shoulder…”
Isaiah 33:22: “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king. It is He who will save us.”
Daniel 2:21: “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”
Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Isaiah 30:15, 18: “…In repentance and rest is your salvation…the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice…”
Romans 10:1: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that she may be saved.”
This article originally appeared on Light of Zion, February 3, 2023, and reposted with permission.