Over 100 Israeli philosophers have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the nation’s Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, expressing concern about recently advanced legal changes.David Enoch, professor of philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describes what has been going on:
The new government in Israel has launched—with unbelievable speed—a campaign for massive, deeply anti-democratic constitutional “reform”. The main people behind this reform take their cues from similar “reforms” in such places as Poland and Hungary (initially only implicitly, recently they are entirely open and loud about looking up to these places). These measures include a change in the appointment and promotion procedures for judges that will make it entirely politicized and up to the current coalition’s whims; putting in place an override clause that will allow the current coalition to set aside court’s decisions that declare pieces of legislation unconstitutional; severely weakening the status and authority of the government’s legal advisors; and more.
The aim—and likely consequence—of these measures is making our independent judiciary a thing of the past, and giving the current (extreme right-wing) coalition unencumbered force, with nothing even remotely resembling checks and balances. It’s easy to guess who will be the first to suffer. (For one example—of the expected consequences for women—see here.)
The open letter states:
We, over one hundred Israeli philosophers teaching in all the universities and colleges in the country, wish to express our anxiety at the far-reaching legal reforms that are hastily advanced these days in the Knesset. The moral achievements of the modern liberal-democratic state are the fruit of centuries of political thought and of a persistent struggle to apply it in the state’s constitutional structure: human and civil rights, the separation of powers, the protection of the individual from the arbitrary exercise of governmental power, and the equality of every human being without discrimination on the basis of nationality, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual inclination.
We warn against the political and cultural danger of the self-isolation of Israel within narrow ethnocentric bounds, ignoring universal values such as the dignity of human beings as human beings, openness to other cultures, and the freedom of scientific research and artistic creation.
Twentieth-century experience has demonstrated the intolerable ease with which democratic states backslide from the primary liberal principle—the limitation of government power, particularly by undermining the independence of the judiciary. Such regress begins with a regime that is democratic only in the formal sense of majority rule and ends in dictatorship.
Professor Enoch adds, “Many outside of Israel have also spoken clearly against these ‘reforms’. It would be great if philosophers elsewhere are also heard on this.”
The letter and the list of its signatories is below.
UPDATE (2/28/23): A group of British Jewish philosophers have written a letter in support of their Israeli colleagues: