Let democracy grow
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 5, 2002
I share the "ethical concerns¹¹ that led the Israeli Supreme Court last week to reject Prime Minister Sharon¹s appointment of Ehud Yatom as his anti-terrorism advisor.
Few could read the description of the killing of the terrorists taken alive from Bus 300 in 1984 without being sickened. Yatom and General Security Services operatives under his command crushed the skulls of the two terrorists, whose hands and feet were bound and their heads covered, with metal bars and rocks. The coldness required to carry out such a killing is hard to imagine.
Nevertheless Yatom¹s claim that it was standard procedure in 1984 that no terrorist who took hostages would escape alive and that the highest political echelons turned a blind eye to this practice -- appears true. A presidential pardon was practically forced upon Yatom, Yossi Ginossar, and other GSS operatives in 1986 precisely to prevent them from raising this defense in criminal proceedings. And the fact that Yatom continued to serve in the most senior positions in the GSS until 1997 further demonstrates that his actions were the norm.
But even if one were to grant that Yatom¹s killing of the two captured terrorists should not stand in the way of his appointment seventeen years later as the prime minister¹s advisor on terrorism, there remains his almost equally appalling perjury before two governmental commissions investigating the Bus 300 incident. Yatom testified that he had seen Yitzchak Mordechai, the military commander whose troops had rescued the captives aboard the bus, bludgeoning the two captured terrorists with his pistol.
Mordechai was the GSS¹s designated fall guy. In order to save his own career, Yatom was prepared to end Mordechai¹s. That willingness to frame an innocent was not even mitigated by the desire to protect Israel¹s image: The world did not care whether the deed was that of a senior military commander or a senior officer in the GSS.
Agreement with the concerns raised by the Supreme Court about the Yatom appointment, however, does not constitute approval of the Court¹s decision. As is often the case when the Court takes on the role of creating norms for the elected branches, there is a certain suspicion that ideology and the identity of the parties played a not insignificant role in the outcome.
Last year a Supreme Court panel, which included two of the three judges who ruled against Yatom, upheld then Prime Minister Ehud Barak¹s appointment of Yossi Ginossar as a negotiator with the Palestinian Authority. Ginossar¹s involvement in the GSS cover-up of the Bus 300 incident was, if anything, more egregious than Yatom¹s. Even while he served as the GSS representative on the Zorea commission investigating the incident, Ginossar was busy coordinating with Yatom the false testimony to be given to the commission. Retired Court President Moshe Landau rightly characterized Ginossar as a "Trojan horse¹¹ on the commission.
Yet Justice Dalia Dorner, who concurred in last week¹s decision rejecting Yatom¹s appointment, dismissed MK Tzvi Hendel¹s petition against the Ginossar appointment on the grounds that 16 years had already passed since Bus 300. Justice Tova Strasbourg-Cohen, who also sat on both panels, managed to write a three-page concurring opinion last week, without once mentioning the Court¹s decision last year to uphold the Ginossar appointment.
THERE is, however, a more fundamental flaw in the Court¹s decision. Not once in his opinion did Justice Yehoshua Matza point to any statutory criterion governing prime ministerial appointments that Prime Minister Sharon violated. Nor did he find it necessary to point to any source in statute or basic law conferring on the Supreme Court the power to review such appointments.
True, the Barak Court has long asserted that power, but its exercise constitutes a usurpation of powers never granted the Court and not claimed by other supreme courts around the world. Haim Tzadok describes a meeting between British jurists and lawyers and their Israeli counterparts that took place just after the Barak Court ordered the dismissal of Aryeh Deri as a minister. The British jurists expressed amazement that an Israeli court would ever intervene in the appointment of ministers. To which the Israelis replied: Can you imagine a British prime minister appointing a minister under criminal indictment?
From this exchange, Tzadok derives the lesson that it is the task of the Israeli Supreme Court to teach us what, as the British say, "simply isn¹t done.¹¹ That is the wrong lesson.
Admittedly political norms in Israel are shockingly low and the Knesset often dysfunctional. The cure, however, is not for the Court to step in wherever the Knesset has failed and to provide us with its own set of norms. An overreaching Court is not only a symptom of democratic dysfunction but one of its causes. The Court has caused the healthy democratic instincts of Israeli citizens and legislators alike to atrophy.
The argument for democracy, it should be remembered, is not that the decisions emanating from popularly elected legislatures are inherently wiser or more just than those enacted by a Council of Platonic Guardians. Rather democracy is predicated on the inherent equality of each person, and is designed to give each citizen an equal say in the major normative decisions governing his or her life. Through the exercise of that right democracy holds out the promise of developing a citizenry worthy of self-governance.
Ha¹Aretz describes the Israeli Supreme Court as the repository of "all basic human values.¹¹ Democratic theory, however, rejects as a matter of principle the idea that any unelected and unrepresentative body should determine the basic values of society.
If Yossi Sarid believed in democracy, instead of pursuing Ehud Yatom in the Court in the name of "protecting the confidence of the public in government,¹¹ he would have turned to the public and attempted to convince them that they should be outraged. In a properly functioning democracy, elected officials fear repudiation by the voters more than the strictures of the high court.
Leaving everything to the Court in Israel has led to an apathetic and lethargic citizenry. Rather than raising norms of political behavior, reliance on the Court has prevented their development.
Related Topics: Israeli Supreme Court
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