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Q & A with Haim Ramon: Defending Israeli democracy

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Haim Ramon (Igal Hecht photo)

On Jan. 1, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Knesset to grant him immunity from prosecution while he’s serving as prime minister. A few days before, I met with former Israeli justice minister Haim Ramon, who served as a member of the Knesset between 1983 and 2009. He was appointed justice minister in 2006 and spent much of his tenure pushing for judicial reform.

 

Last July, you wrote in Haaretz that the criticism against Netanyahu for seeking immunity is not fair. Why?

His right to seek immunity is written in Israeli law. The Israeli law on the issue of immunity was changed in 2005. It was not written for Bibi.

Everybody’s saying, “we are in favour of the rule of law.” Well, the rule of law is saying that Netanyahu, as any other minister or a member of Knesset, has the right to go to the Knesset and ask for immunity.

You have to understand: immunity doesn’t mean that he will not be indicted. The day will come when he will not be prime minister or a member of Knesset and then he will be indicted.

But to say that his right to ask for immunity is something terrible, it’s nonsense.

 

And yet people continue to say that. Why do you think that is?

Because they can’t say anything else. Because they want the people to believe that Netanyahu is corrupt. These last two elections, three former IDF generals could not get a victory – so this is an easier way to beat him.

 

Justice Minister Amir Ohana has been extremely critical of the Supreme Court and the prosecutor’s office, going as far as to say that they are “drunk with power.” As a former justice minister, what is your opinion about the ever-growing tension between the courts and politicians?

The present minister of justice is a very strange man. He thinks that he was elected and that he has the right to make decisions according to the law. Very strange, indeed. This is unheard of in Israel since 1993, when Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak led a judiciary revolution. This is the reality and it’s unheard of anywhere else in the world.

 

Are you saying that the Supreme Court and the Israeli justice system are basically sidestepping the Knesset and the democratic will of the people?

In a democratic system, the people chosen to be in the Knesset are responsible for the public interest and they are writing the laws. This is how democracy works. The Knesset is the people. But the courts are saying otherwise.

The Justice Ministry is effectively saying, “we will tell the ministers and the Knesset what is in the public interest.” When I was a minister of justice, I represented the interest of the public. But now they are saying, “no, no; we know better than the public.” This is a strange system. The Supreme Court is deciding to abolish laws passed by the Knesset without any authority. And it’s getting worse and worse.

Just lately, Aharon Barak said that, “The way that the Supreme Court and the system has to translate laws of the Knesset is not through the biological or historical systems. We are translating according to the reasonable member of Knesset.” Who will decide who is the reasonable member of Knesset? Aharon Barak and his friends?

 

Is Ohana right in his demands for change? For example, he wanted to nominate his own candidate for state attorney and attorney general, but the media and the courts came out against him and said he had no right to do so.

The law is very clear: he is the one that has the right to nominate the person that will be a temporary replacement for the state attorney. But the attorney general told him, “You will nominate only the one that I am telling you,” and when he resisted, they say about Ohana, “You are against the law, against the rule of law.” It’s unbelievable.

 

You’re describing a very undemocratic system that seems to threaten the ability of politicians to do what they want them to do.

President Reuven Rivlin said the exact same thing when he was chairman of the Knesset.

 

What are your thoughts about the current cases against the prime minister?

I am against Bibi. His policy is bringing the end of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. But you fight against him in the election. Try to convince the people. Don’t go to the Supreme Court and try to take away the democratic right of the people to decide.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.

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