Adam Fisher

It’s not the judges who will lose their power - but the citizens

According to Adam Fisher, a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, should the new government implement its "legal reform" plans, the executive, legislative, and judicial authorities will all be subject to a majority in the Knesset

There is no difference between sheep in line to be sheared of their wool and sheep in line for slaughter. Both have complete faith that the men who wield these sharp tools do so sensibly and mercifully. Sheep are naturally submissive and assume men have their best interests at heart, unable to contemplate their future beyond the next meal.
All the citizens of Israel will soon find themselves in one of two lines if the new government enacts its “judicial reform” plans. It will result in a new system of government, where the executive, legislative and judiciary branches are all subservient to a Knesset majority. A majority now empowered to ignore laws with impunity, and when ignoring the law is too shameful, to change the law with similar impunity.
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אדם פישר קרן בסמר
אדם פישר קרן בסמר
Adam Fisher
(Photo: Bessemer Venture Partners)
Because we will still elect the Knesset majority at least every four years, some will insist that this is the fulfillment of representative democracy. But unrestricted power, even in the hands of the elected, is “tyranny of the majority.” While in power, the elected Knesset majority will have authoritarian powers held in check only by their good intentions and their internal divisions.
Fear from a tyranny of the majority is as ancient as democracy itself, but while Jews are an ancient people, our experience with democracy is relatively new. This isn’t an illegal coup in which power is seized from the electorate. But it is an aggressive power grab in which one branch of government seizes power from another, disrupting decades of equilibrium. A move that fundamentally changes how the country functions as a democracy and that provides a legal blueprint for authoritarianism. A road to submission for the people of Israel.

Don’t be confused. It’s not the judges who are the losing power, but each and every citizen whose rights will now depend entirely on the opinion of 61 MKs who have a monopoly on the “sharp tools” of governance. Like sheep, we will have to trust that these tools will be used in our best interests, and then only sparingly.
The irony is that aside from secular Israeli Jews, every segment of Israeli society is a minority. Those Israelis represented in the current Knesset majority are confident they will forever be in the line to be sheared, freed of the burden of so much wool. Like sheep unable to contemplate their future beyond the next meal, these Israelis don’t realize that some of them may find themselves in the other line.
How long will the welfare-reliant, draft evading Haredi parties continue to be the “natural partners” of the largely secular, free market Likud, which sends its children to the military and eventually into the workforce? Who will find themselves in the minority following an Israeli Arab political awakening that reconstitutes how a Knesset majority is formed?
While the current political alignment will eventually shift, the consolidated power of the Knesset majority will be practically irreversible. Judges will continue to interpret the law knowing they only serve at the will of the ruling majority. It will not only be an indelible stain on our democracy, but one that will put us in conflict with our natural allies and supporters abroad.
That’s because a regime change represents a change in our fundamental values and a break with countries that aligned themselves with us due to shared values. Shared values that have kept much of the democratic West on our side during armed conflict and diplomatic siege. Shared values that have been the bulwark against the BDS movement and repeated attempts to delegitimize our country. And shared values that have allowed foreign investors and customers to favor Israeli businesses without reservation. Our high tech will not be spared.
For all its might, Israeli high tech is entirely dependent on the influx of foreign capital and access to foreign markets. Even if the calls for sanctions on Israel are repeatedly thwarted, foreign investors will grow wary, choosing to make smaller allocations to the country and demanding larger discounts on the investments they do make.
It took decades to build the industry that now drives the Israeli economy, but this one reckless decision can set it on a path of decline. This reckless step will set in motion a cascade of contentious decisions that will be impossible to defend without an independent judiciary. Today it is the judiciary. Tomorrow it is the Bank of Israel. Tyranny of the majority is arbitrary rule. Arbitrary rule is not only uninviting for businesses and investors, but it also deters them over time.
Israel will be unique among the nations not because we are the only democracy in the Middle East, but because we will be the only democracy in the world without a constitution, without judicial review and without a separation of powers. The tyranny of the majority will be Israel’s special version of democracy and it will weigh us down.
Detractors of Israel will use it to bludgeon us on the international stage, in court rooms and in corporate board rooms. New claims of illegitimacy will arise in chorus with existing claims of illegitimacy. Another burden we’d rather do without, but this time a burden entirely of our own making that we are condemned to endure.
Do not be mistaken. This is not normal politics, where the winners reverse the previous government’s laws and pass new ones that favor their own constituencies. This is aggressive politics by an illiberal government intoxicated with victory that sees democracy as a means to rule over the defeated minority. The historic parallels are too painful to contemplate.
Over the last two centuries Jews suffered in authoritarian regimes and thrived in democratic ones. For liberal minded Jews the proposed structural changes are akin to bringing authoritarian “gods” into the temple of democracy. This desecration of Israeli democracy is infuriating and insulting.
This is not the time to remain silent or complain behind closed doors. Do not whine about emigrating from the country that was your family’s refuge. Oppose this government and exercise your right to speak out. Donate to organizations that protect Israeli democracy, individual rights, quality in government and religious pluralism. And most importantly, demonstrate in the streets and let them know you refuse to submit.
Adam Fisher is a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners