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Israelis Need a Constitution to Fortify Their Democracy

November 16, 1987|URI AVNERY | Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist. This commentary was translated and adapted from an article in Haolam Haveh (This World), a Hebrew-language magazine in Tel Aviv.

TEL AVIV — I envy the Americans.

For several weeks, the entire American nation debated the nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Bork testified on national television, the President gave speeches and media commentators commented. Debate raged everywhere--the living room, the workplace, in restaurants and at weekend parties.

The controversy centered on the Constitution: Bork holds that a jurist must interpret it strictly according to the intentions of its creators, eight generations ago, while Bork's opponents feel that the Constitution is a living document and that the court must interpret its spirit, as reflected in every era.

The American public formed the opinion that Bork is too conservative. Senators adjusted their positions to the wishes of their constituents, and thus Bork lost.

I envy the Americans because none of these things happen here. In Israel, we would have read an item in the morning newspaper: So-and-so was appointed to the Supreme Court. No one would have asked the candidate's opinion on matters of law because in Israel, judges are appointed without regard to their judicial philosophy or the wishes of the public.

Israeli politicians don't change their positions to reflect their constituents' wishes; they have been elected, at best, by the central membership of their party. No Israeli court has the power to invalidate a Knesset law; the Knesset can legislate that no red-headed man can marry a blue-eyed woman, and the court will have to uphold this law.

In Israel--and this is the root of the evil--there is no constitution.

The politicians who stood at Israel's cradle shirked their duty. They were unwilling to confront the major problems of statecraft--the role of religion in a secular state; the place of the national Arab minority in a "Jewish state"; how to guard democracy in a condition of continual war, and many more such issues that should have been solved by a constitution when the state was founded.

Israel vitally needs a constitution. We need a constitution to help our people stave off encroaching secular and religious fascism. We need a constitution to fortify the awareness of democracy in the hearts of our people. We need a constitution that we can relate to as we relate to the flag.

If Israel had a constitution like the American Constitution, these are some of the things that would happen immediately: State funding of religious schools and academies would cease; all laws that force religious norms on the state would be canceled; the ability of the prime minister to govern would be strengthened, and Knesset members would be elected directly, thus decreasing their dependence on the party machinery.

The American system has its flaws and I wouldn't accept any article of the American Constitution without seriously examining its suitability for us. But the American Constitution is indeed a beautiful castle; Israel's governmental structure is a crumbling shack.

A group of Israeli professors recently advanced a prototype constitution for Israel. I support this effort. Let us not be afraid of the difficulties involved in establishing a constitution. The debate itself will strengthen our democracy.

I dream of the day when we will have a constitution. I dream of the day when the whole country will rage in debate over the nomination of a judge like Bork.

Until then, I shall continue to envy the United States.

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