Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Constitution for Israel

My former influential teacher and long-term acquaintance, Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson, MK from Kadima and Chair of the Knesset committee for constitutional and law-making matters, is pushing hard to finally enact a constitution, after 60 years without.

The accepted version of the story is that back in the early years of the state, when it was obvious that Israel should have a constitution like everybody else does, the religious parties blocked the move because the Jews already had a constitution - the Torah - and didn't need another one. The compromise reached was that over the years the Knesset has passed a series of Basic Laws (such as the Basic Law: Knesset, or Basic Law: Government, or Basic Law: IDF), and the assumption is that some day they'll string them all together and Hey Presto! There will be a Constitution!

In a way, this has succeeded, and for many matters, the Basic Laws indeed do behave like a constitution should. In other ways, it has allowed the central, partially declarative issues to remain unresolved, since the practicalities of living life and running a country obviously get along just fine without them. In the meantime, as you would expect, various - perhaps even contradictory - political groups have developed high expectations about how the constitution, when it finally happens, will resolve these festering matters or those.

Since Ben Sasson is churning up so much dust, Haaretz asked two prominent publicists to put their positions in writing. It's worth mentioning that both are professors (Kremnitzer: law, Avineri: political science), both are Ashkenazi, neither are religious, Arab, Russian, Ethiopian, women, settlers, or otherwise fanatics [:~)].

Kremnitzer is for, Avineri is against. It should come as no surprise to regular readers of Ruminations that I'm more on Avineri's side, though my reasoning is a bit different than his. I'm a great fan of root causes, though not in their usual meaning. If a society is healthily democratic, that's more important than any document, and if it isn't, no document will be of any use anyway, as the history of the 20th century demonstrated endlessly. Israel is deeply democratic, for deep-seated historical reasons; at the same time, as Avineri rightly shows, it is not in agreement with itself about much that would normally go into a constitution. These disagreements, however, do not seem to endanger the fundamentals.

Although, of course, you should never rest on your laurels nor take anything for granted - but no written constitution will change that sentence one way or the other.

No comments: