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5 Shevat 5760 - January 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Basic Law Bill Proposed In Knesset

by Eliezer Rauchberger

The Constitution Committee of the Knesset voted last week (on Monday 25 Teves) to present a new Basic Law bill to regulate the enactment of Basic Laws as well as their amendment. The decision was accepted by a majority of 8 Knesset members with one abstention (Yuval Steinitz of Likud).

Although UTJ's MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz was present, he did not participate in the vote. The Shas and Mafdal MKs were not present at the time of the vote.

This Basic Law is essentially a law to define and regulate the enactment of Basic Laws. Many activists, among them Rabbi Ravitz, are calling for the passage of this preliminary law before dealing with the actual enactment of Basic Laws, since such a law will allow full debate and hopefully broad agreement on how all Basic Laws should be enacted. Next, committee members will debate the wording of the proposed law.

According to the bill as it was placed on the table of the Committee, a majority of at least 61 Knesset members will be required for passage of a Basic Law at its second reading. A majority of at least 70 MKs will be required to approve a Basic Law at its third and final reading. In the Israeli Knesset system, each law is voted on three times, at what are called its first, second and third readings in the plenum.

The bill also determines that any clause in a Basic Law whose annulment requires a specific majority must itself be passed by the same majority [i.e., the same amount of votes]. For example, if a law proposes that to do something will require a two-thirds majority of the entire house (80 votes), will itself require 80 votes to pass. Right now, a majority of those present and voting, which can be a mere handful, can pass a law to require any majority it wants -- a very undemocratic state of affairs.

In addition, the bill states that a Basic Law cannot be canceled or changed except by another Basic Law; a regular law cannot contradict a Basic law; a Basic Law cannot undermine the authority of a law which was in existence prior to the new Basic Law's passage.

Rabbi Ravitz presented the committee members with several proposed changes in the bill. Among other things, he relates to the clause which determines that the Basic Law cannot be changed or canceled except by another Basic Law. He suggests that it be added that a Basic Law can be changed or canceled by a majority of the Knesset.

He also proposed that every Basic Law voted by the Knesset should be considered a regular law for the first five years after its passage, and become a Basic Law only after that waiting period has elapsed to see how it is applied in practice. If the Knesset passes laws which contradict that particular Basic Law during those first five years, or if different interpretations of the law are made by the Court canceling regular laws in the light of the Basic Law, the Knesset will then decide upon a course of action. It will decide whether to change the Basic Law in the wake of contradicting laws or interpretation, to cancel the contradictory law, or to cancel the Basic Law and to transform it into a regular law.

MK Nochum Langethal (Mafdal) proposed determining that when the High Court deliberates on canceling a Knesset Law, it must to do so with a panel of at least 9 judges. Further, for it to decide on the cancellation of a law, there must be a majority of 6 out of the 9 judges, according to Langethal's proposal.

In response, Rabbi Ravitz said that the problem does not lie in cancellation of laws enacted by the Knesset, but in their interpretation.

He proposed that every Basic Law contain an explicit statement that it cannot override a religious law or accepted religious practice, known as the "status quo." "If this is done, all of the Basic Laws can be enacted without problems," he told Committee members. He explained that although the Basic Laws state that Israel is a Jewish state, in reality, the interpretation [by the Court] does not take this into consideration.

"It is inconceivable that a judge should sit in Netanya and rule that shemiras Shabbos isn't reason enough to enact a municipal law, and then go ahead and cancel that law passed by the local municipal council," Rabbi Ravitz said.

MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that although he is secular, he fears that the Basic Laws representing liberal values will undermine the Jewish values of the state.

Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Moshe Landau, sent a letter to the committee members as a follow-up of his appearance before it a month and a half earlier. In his letter, he warns against the continuation of the "constitutional revolution" and granting power to the High Court to interpret and even annul Knesset laws. Regarding the proposal for the law to arrange procedures for the enactment of Basic Laws, he wrote that the essence of the problem has not been addressed in that law.

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