For a nation as small as Israel, the hundreds of thousands of protesters flooding the streets in recent months amount to a massive show of disapproval. The overwhelming demonstrations show the widespread condemnation of the plans put forth by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judiciary system.
What’s going on? And how can Christians pray for Israel?
Calev Myers is Christian, a Senior Partner of Yehuda Ravah and Co. Law Offices, and a prolific advocate for civil rights in Israel. He weighs in on the issues in this episode of The Denison Forum Podcast.
The history behind the protests
When Israel was founded in 1948, political leaders gathered to establish the foundation for their newly formed nation. Israel is a free democracy, but it was also founded to be an asylum state for the dispersed Jews across the world.
Myers says, “The reason that you’re seeing the demonstrations today, even though they’re probably seventy-five years too late, is that Israel never created a constitution. Our first Knesset [Parliamentary meeting] was intentionally put together, and one of its first jobs was to create a constitution, but it did not do that.”
The controversial issue was, at its core, “What does it mean to be a Jewish and democratic state? . . . Democracy has the right for every religion, and it doesn’t mention a certain religion, but again, in order to be a homeland or asylum for persecuted Jews around the world, we want to maintain a Jewish majority.”
The first Knesset couldn’t agree on how to form the constitution in a way that would uphold Jewish values and Rabbinic teachings while maintaining secular values. So, instead of coming up with a constitution, they created “basic laws” (like freedom of expression), which they hoped would one day become a constitution.
To this day, Israel does not have a constitution.
So what’s wrong with this status quo? If the basic laws act a bit like a constitution, why change anything? Because, it’s been too easy for the Knesset (the equivalent of Parliament, similar to Congress) to pass basic laws; it only required a simple majority. That would be like if a constitutional amendment only needed 51 percent of the Senate’s vote.
So, how does Israel balance the power between the Knesset and their Supreme Court?
In 1955, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that they could strike down other laws if they contradicted basic laws. This is similar to America’s system. However, in 2021, they gave themselves the power to strike basic laws based on their perception of “democratic” values. Now, the Supreme Court could void any laws, basic or otherwise.
As Myers summarizes, “The Supreme Court gave itself the ultimate authority within our system in a way that was never determined by our parliament.”
Why are there protests in Israel?
He continues, “You have a guild of legal professionals, self-perpetuating itself by appointing people with a similar worldview, setting itself as the ultimate authority within our democratic system to strike down laws and basic laws.”
This didn’t give rise to the protests, however. Everyone agreed this was too much power in the hands of the judiciary branch, so reforms began.
In response to the Supreme Court’s overreach of power, “The current government is putting forward reforms that are way out of balance on the other side.” The current government under Netanyahu is taking all power away from the Supreme Court, saying that, with a simple majority, the Knesset can strike down any decision of the Supreme Court. This is called the “override clause.”
In addition, Netanyahu fired his defense minister for asking to put a pause on the judiciary overhaul. The US, a long-time ally of Israel, questioned this decision. Netanyahu is also under prosecution for corruption, which he denies.
What’s the solution to the Israel protests?
An amicable solution won’t be simple; it will require compromise. Myers recommends making sure the override clause can only work if a supermajority approves it. That would help balance the powers of the (roughly) two branches of Israel’s government.
Myers has hope. “I think at the end of the day, the reform that goes through will be a good reform. . . . Yes, it became extremely tense over here . . . [but] I think there’s goodwill on both sides . . . and so I’m hoping that the long-needed legal reforms that actually are passed in the end will be balanced and moderate.”
He says that the protests actually show how robust Israel’s democracy is, and in his opinion, it’s possible for Israel to be a Jewish democratic state.
Four ways to pray for Israel
In his interview with Dr. Mark Turman, Myers also talks about his nonprofit organization ARISE, which helps create business connections for international and Israeli Jews to create economic prosperity, combatting the anti-Jewish movement called BDS.
Myers also discusses the state of civil rights in Israel and Palestine, the peaceful coexistence of Arabs, Jews, Palestinians, Christians, and others, and his experience fighting against injustice.
And Myers relates ways to pray for Israel (Psalm 122:6):
- Pray for the civil unrest and that it stays peaceful.
- Pray that a well-balanced government will emerge.
- Pray for protection from Iran, which is getting close to developing nuclear weapons.
- Pray for the Abraham Accords, especially with Saudi Arabia, which looks hopeful.
Cultural barriers and politics often obscure what’s really going on in modern Israel. Equipped with law expertise and firsthand experience, we’re thankful for Myers’ voice in clarifying the issues.
Will you join us in praying for Israel?