Sitting on the Banks of Israel’s Rubicon
September 12 of this year was a momentous day in Israeli history: the day Israel’s Supreme Court began reviewing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “reasonableness bill.”
Netanyahu entered office late last year intent on cleaning up Israel’s court system, which has amassed so much power that it can veto government decisions and even cabinet appointments based purely on whether or not they are “reasonable.” In July, Netanyahu’s government passed a bill stripping this ability from the court. This “reasonableness bill” was made a Basic Law, giving it precedence over other laws. The Supreme Court has never overturned any Basic Law and may not have the legal ability to do so.
No schedule for the final verdict has been released yet; it could be weeks or even months. But whatever the court’s decision, it will not be a matter of if but how much Israeli society changes because of it.
Both sides are trying to influence the court’s proceedings. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who does not represent the government in this case, is urging the court to strike down the law. In contrast, the Israeli government wants the court to delay the hearing.
The Supreme Court rejected the government’s petition. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, set to retire in October, has been a vocal opponent to limiting the reasonableness standard. Scheduling the hearing right before she retires suggests she has a lot to say about the law. This is also the first time that all 15 justices will preside over a case.
The law’s supporters believe the court has grabbed too much power, setting itself up as the authority over the executive and legislative branches without constitutional backing. The court’s apparent determination to strike down a semi-constitutional law concerning itself confirms this belief and gives the government’s supporters more ammunition.
Meanwhile, the reasonableness law is still valid. Vetoing the law because it isn’t “reasonable” would be open usurpation.
The court probably has a million other ways to veto the law without using the word “reasonable.” But unless Netanyahu did something illegal in passing the law (and he would be in jail by now if he did), everybody knows the law would die only if the court gave the execution order.
An alternative ending: The court could let the law stay as is, which may arm Netanyahu’s enemies even more.
While voters control who sits in the Knesset, they don’t control who sits on the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has always limited the conservative direction of the country. If the court shows itself unwilling to stand up against Netanyahu, some may decide it’s time to take matters into their own hands.
All the protesting military reservists, Mossad agents and average citizens on the street may decide to take their protest one step further. All those fighting in the name of “democracy,” once they see “democracy’s last hope” join forces with the enemy, may see another war of independence as their only course of action. This time, their foe wouldn’t be British colonists or Arab armies, but Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Supreme Court has another option that would be far less inflammatory. It could rule that the new law has its problems and send it back to the Knesset to “patch up.”
But even in a “best case scenario,” the threat of civil war is high. Many are using this trial not to protect democracy but as a way to neuter Netanyahu. There isn’t a pretty ending to this.
In 54 b.c., Pompey had taken control of Rome’s government and saw a threat in his ambitious commander, Julius Caesar. Caesar, who was leading soldiers in Gaul, was ordered to return to Rome as a private citizen to face prosecution. He had command of his troops only up to the Rubicon River in northern Italy; past the Rubicon was government territory. Crossing the Rubicon while controlling his army would mean open rebellion.
When Caesar stood at the banks of the Rubicon, according to biographer Suetonius, “he paused for a while, thinking over the magnitude of what he was planning, then, turning to his closest companions, he said: ‘Even now we can still turn back. But once we have crossed that little bridge, everything must be decided by arms.’”
After what was interpreted as a favorable sign from the gods, Caesar proclaimed: “Let us go where the gods have shown us the way and the injustice of our enemies call us. The die is cast.”
The rest is history. Caesar started a civil war, Pompey lost, and Caesar became master of Rome. The Roman Republic was all but dead.
As Israel stands on the banks of its own Rubicon, no matter how long it takes for the justices to make up their mind, no matter how the die lands, there is no turning back. At the conclusion of the judicial review, the State of Israel will not be the same.
To learn more, read Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s article from our August 2023 issue, “The Jewish State Has No Helper.”