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‘The gun is on the table’: Both sides of Israel’s debate say that a constitutional crisis is coming



(JTA) — In a country that is deeply divided, where attending anti-government protests has become a weekly ritual for many, at least one idea still unites the right and left: Israel appears to be hurtling toward a constitutional crisis.

The crisis — which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed a “governmental breakdown” during a recent visit to Germany — would flow from legislation Netanyahu is pushing that would overhaul Israel’s judiciary. The proposal — which critics say threatens Israel’s democratic character — would increase the coalition’s control over the appointment of Supreme Court judges, and would enable Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to override court decisions with a simple majority. 

A constitutional crisis occurs when a country faces an unsolvable dispute between competing branches of government. Countries have recovered from constitutional crises in the past — the United States has had several over the centuries, including multiple ones related to the leadup to the Civil War and its aftermath — but the process can be difficult, and mistrust long-lasting.

In Israel’s case, what happens if the Knesset passes the judicial legislation, the Supreme Court strikes it down, and the Knesset doesn’t abide by that decision? Does the court or Knesset hold final authority?

However that question is answered, just getting to that point would represent a dramatic breakdown in a 75-year-old democracy. “The very idea that the government might not comply, might ignore the Supreme Court’s decision, would be an unprecedented crisis,” said Michal Saliternik, a law professor at Netanya Academic College.

In that dangerous moment, some Israelis see opportunity. In a perhaps ironic twist, Israel is on the precipice of a constitutional crisis but doesn’t actually have a constitution. It’s a risky bet, but a battle between the court and the coalition, said international law scholar Tamar Megiddo, might just force Israel into the long and arduous process of writing a governing document and figuring out how to balance the country’s competing authorities. 

“The entire constitutional system here is held together by duct tape,” said Megiddo, who teaches at the College of Law and Business outside Tel Aviv. “It’s ridiculous. We have no protection of our constitutional regime, no protection of our separation of powers, no protection of checks and balances and no protection of human rights. The only reason this functioned for the past 75 years is because there was good faith.”

She added, “I think a lot of people view the current constitutional moment, or the realistically likely constitutional crisis, as also an opportunity for fixing everything that’s broken in the system.”

When asked how a clash between the government and courts could come to a head, those scholars and others all individually sketched out versions of the same scenario: The government passes a law giving itself control over judicial appointments, the court strikes down the law — and the government appoints new judges anyway. When those judges arrive for their first day of work, should the security guards let them in? Who should the guards obey — the government that appointed the judges, or the courts that declared their appointment illegal?

While that question is being debated, the courts may not be able to hear cases at all.

“At the end of the day, the state needs to function,” Saliternik said. “The courts have work to do. If the judges can’t enter their chambers, it will definitely impact everyone. It’ll be like a third world country in which institutions don’t function.”

The law on judicial appointments may be passed next week, and for rank-and-file Israelis, both Saliternik and Megiddo said, this question would hardly be theoretical. If Israel’s system of government descends into crisis, it could lead to a downgrade in the country’s credit rating and an economic downturn that ordinary citizens feel in their pockets. And given how invested Israelis have become in the face of the judicial reform — protesting in the streets by the hundreds of thousands — it’s unlikely they’ll ignore what ensues if and when it passes. Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who has a reputation for congeniality, gave a pained speech last week warning of the potential for civil war.

“If the court issues a ruling and the government does not comply, then the Israeli public will say, ‘This is the ultimate proof that this is not a democracy anymore,’” Saliternik said. “I say this with trepidation, but if there’s an open battle between the Supreme Court and the Knesset, it could result in street violence.”

Megiddo said that even the possibility of such a crisis has normalized tactics that were once on the fringe, such as refusal to perform military service, a duty seen as sacrosanct across much of Jewish Israeli society. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reportedly warned that the possibility of mass refusal to serve could cause him to leave his post. On Tuesday, a group of military reservists said they plan to recruit tens of thousands more who will pledge to shirk reserve duty if the legislation goes through.

“People who refuse service were considered, in the Israeli public, to be a very extreme minority, and now it’s mainstream to say that people won’t serve the military for a dictatorship,” Megiddo said. “It’s unbelievable how mainstream saying that at the moment is, and that has long-term impact.”

Both supporters and opponents of the legislation in the Knesset are treating a constitutional crisis as a real possibility. The only thing they disagree about is who will be to blame — and both sides appear to be raising the stakes, vowing either to disobey government decisions, or disregard the court.

“The security situation is troubling,” said former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, an opponent of Netanyahu, in a speech last week referencing escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians, and urging Netanyahu to pause the court legislation. “Don’t drag us into an irresponsible constitutional crisis during a security crisis.”

Netanyahu’s allies, unsurprisingly, say it is the opponents of the reform — and the justices of the court themselves — who would be responsible for a constitutional crisis, should the court strike down the law. 

Striking down the reform legislation would be a “doomsday weapon,” wrote Dror Eydar, a columnist for the pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom, in a piece titled “Inviting a constitutional crisis.” “This striking down would constitute a coup d’etat.” 

(Another column four days later in the same publication, however, urged a compromise on the judicial reform in order to avert a constitutional crisis. That piece was written by Miriam Adelson, whose husband Sheldon — the late billionaire philanthropist — founded and funded the paper.)

Netanyahu’s coalition members are still worried enough about the prospect of a constitutional crisis that they’ve agreed to what they refer to as a “softening” of one piece of the legislation. Instead of giving the coalition total control over Supreme Court appointments, the new text of the bill would let the coalition control its first two judicial appointments.

“There’s no doubt that the change we made prevents any real claim that can create a constitutional crisis,” said Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is spearheading the legislation, on an Israeli news show on Monday. 

A view of the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem. (Eddie Gerald via Getty Images)

But then he threw down the gauntlet: If the court still overturns the law, Levin said, “That would cross every red line. We definitely wouldn’t accept it.”

Responding to that claim, Yair Lapid, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, said that if the government disobeys the court, citizens should disobey the government. 

“That’s it, the masks are off. The gun is on the table,” Lapid tweeted. “The real prime minister, Yariv Levin, is drawing us into total chaos and a constitutional crisis we won’t be able to come back from. If the justice minister is calling on the government not to obey the law, why should the citizens of Israel obey the government?”

Another Likud lawmaker, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, said he would respect the court’s ruling if it struck the law down. But in any case, the Likud bill doesn’t appear to be a promising avenue toward compromise. “This isn’t softening and compromise, this is Hungary and Poland on steroids,” Labor Party Chair Merav Michaeli said on a radio program on Monday, referring to countries where the government has increased its control over the court system. “From the start, I said we can’t negotiate with them.”

A predecessor of Michaeli’s in the Labor Party has also taken a hard line and — unlike the many voices who worry about a clash of government authorities — has suggested that he would prefer a constitutional crisis to compromise. Ehud Barak, a former Israeli prime minister, said that a constitutional crisis would force senior Israeli military commanders to take sides — and expressed confidence that they would choose to obey the courts.

“It would be a severe constitutional crisis,” Barak said in a speech last month. “That’s when the test of the gatekeepers and defenders of sovereignty would arrive: The head of the Shin Bet, the police commissioner, the chief of staff and the head of the Mossad. I’m convinced that they understand that in a democracy, the only choice is to recognize the supremacy of law and the Supreme Court.”

The mounting threats by military reservists, and comments by former military commanders opposing the court reform, may indicate that the military will opt to follow the court. But Saliternik hopes that’s a choice Israeli forces won’t have to confront. 

“This is something that has never happened in Israel,” she said. “It’s so very hard to think about. I very much hope that that government will get a hold of itself and act responsibly.”

The post ‘The gun is on the table’: Both sides of Israel’s debate say that a constitutional crisis is coming appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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