Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Yesterday the Knesset voted on a largely ceremonial motion to continue the drafting of a constitution. The special session was part of a big shindig in which the protocols of the vaadat hukah's meetings on the topic were presented to the Knesset along with background materials and some sort of draft proposal for a constitution. The whole mess is now on the web.

The vaadah's proposal generated a lot of disinformation, so let me tell you a bit about what's in it and what's not.

First of all, it isn't a draft constitution. It is a set of possible alternative formulations on a long list of constitutional issues. Choosing a single option from among the alternatives on each issue and keeping the document coherent will be a long messy process.

You might have heard that the religious parties are opposed to the document on the grounds that it isn't Jewish enough. The truth is that most of the frum politicos now weighing in are just blowing hot air. They didn't take much interest in the process and don't really know what's going on. The Jewish chapter includes alternatives that are not bad at all. (It includes others that are bad. If you compare my earlier ramblings on this topic with some of the alternatives in the Knesset draft, you'll understand that I'm not a disinterested party here.)

The breathtakingly horrendous stuff is elsewhere. There's a chapter on social rights based on a draft by Etti Livni and Yuli Tamir that will, if passed, essentially allow the courts to rewrite the budget. Moreover, there is no provision for changing the incredibly obtuse method of judicial appointments. The best alternative allows a single additional MK on the panel. This topic used to be Miki Eitan's number one crusade; he appears to have wimped out on this one.

I'll have much more to say on this. In the meantime, a very interesting group of (mostly) academics has put together a much better constitution than the vaada did. The Hebrew version is included in the Knesset protocols. The English version was released today as well. Leave your comments about the proposal here.


Anonymous Dave said...

So what's next? I assume it will go to the next Knesset. How can we, the public, influence the MKs to choose the best alternative?

10:24 AM  
Blogger bar_kochba132 said...

Is the idea to have the Knesset draw up and pass the Constitution, or would a "Constitutional Convention" draw it up? I fear that the Left will do what it always has done...try to ram it through with no public debate, like they did with the so-called "Basic Laws" Aharon Barak loves so much. As I recall they passed on votes likes 25 to 21 in a 120 member house. Those in (what's left of the) National Camp must insist that ratification would need something like a 2/3 vote.
Is their any provision for this? Does anyone talk about having a public debate in the media about it?

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

too jewish.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous ABZ said...

The Huka has been going from Knesset to Knesset since the first one. That was essentially the basis of Barak's decision in Mizrachi v. Migdal (and the point of contention with Heshin in his minority opinion). Each knesset is elected to two functions - a parliament and a constitutional assembly - until such time as the constitution is finalized. Is there any indication that the next knesset is any different in that it will ratify an entire document as opposed to the usual two-bit approach to a basic law here and there or amending a basic law here and there?

With all due respect to those on the left who are pushing the Huka, as well as on the right (e.g. Benny Elon) who feel a Huka is inevitable within the next 5-10 years, it doesn't seem to me that the political constellation has changed any much to allow this to happen. If anything, the price Kadima/Olmert will have to pay to the Haredim to be the ruling party will be pushing this even further to the back-burner. When it comes to establishing a Huka or destroying settlements - the left will choose destroying settlements hands down and give in to the Haredim. For that matter, I don't even understand why the left pushes this issue at all - the current arrangments of Constitutional Basic Laws in a hodge podge, coupled with some common law doctrines (e.g. Freedom of Religion, Press, Assembly) seems to serve them well. Occassionally they have to release a Jewish "terrorist: b/c they released an Arab or change a criminal ruling on incitement such as happened a few months ago, but other than that the system works for the left? why do they want to change it - or try to "package" it up?

6:37 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Let's see how the government looks after the elections. We can work on a plan once we know where we stand.

Nobody seems to have devoted any thought to the process (except for RG who wrote a paper that I can send you if you provide an address).

You have a future on Broadway with that routine. Or are you serious?

This is a much more serious effort than previous ones. And I'm not certain that the politics will play out as you envision.
The left's motivation is that it believes that the Knesset is slipping out of its grasp. They want to entrench social "rights" and court intervention the appointments racket while they can.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous ABZ said...

I hear what you are saying, but the proposed sections on ammending the Huka still leave the job to the knesset. The proposed majority of 70 MK's for the final - new- 4th reading is albeit more than what is in place now for most of the basic laws which require either a simple majority or 61 MK's (there is one that requires 80). But it is not terribly more. Certainly not close to 75% or 90 MK's - or some external body like in the States with a Const. Convention or local legislatures).

Based on this is difficult for me to believe that control of the Knesset is the reason the left is pushing it now.

You are correct that we have to wait and see what the next knesset will bring. But traditionally, the center/left (e.g Ben-Gurion and Mapai - probably most of Achdut Avoda as well) in Israel never wanted a constitution. They were happy dragging it along from knesset to knesset. Why would they want to change that now when Sharon develpoed a new systme of transferring power that bypasses the electorate - see Amnon Lord's column last week for how this was a plan in the works already and that Sharon's sickness only changed the timing and dynamics of it. A Huka will make it much more diffiult to do this.
I'd be happy to read the RG piece. send it to

3:18 PM  
Blogger D.C. said...

I'm glad to see that electoral reform is under consideration. While I know full well that every electoral system has its own pros and cons, I think that each representative's being accountable to a specific group of voters is one of the strengths of American democracy, and would be glad to see some sort of implementation of that in Israel.

I think it's good that even a Tom Daschle or Tom Foley* can be defeated in his home district. Under the current Israeli system, as long as you're toward the top of the list of any party with significant support, your persona Knesset seat is guaranteed.

Regarding the proposal by the group of academics, it seems to leave some fundamental issues, like the actual method of selection of the legislature and judiciary, to be determined by statute. Doesn't that somewhat defeat the purpose of having a Constitution?

* Nothing personally against Tom Foley. He was a friend of my (staunchly Republican) grandfather, z"l, and, IMHO, an admirable politician.

5:00 AM  

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