'Israel Needs a Constitution'

Supreme Court President Beinisch calls for an Israeli constitution, says courts need more funding.

Maayana Miskin , | updated: 8:29 PM

Chief Justice Beinisch
Chief Justice Beinisch
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Justice Dorit Beinisch, head of the Supreme Court, called Sunday for Israel to create a constitution. “Most importantly of all, I repeat the old message: the constitution must be completed,” she said at a Hebrew University awards ceremony.

"We must work to establish a constitution, first by completing the Basic Laws, and eventually by establishing a complete constitution that will guarantee human rights and democracy in Israel,” she continued.

A constitution would be a document “upon the values and principles of which we could rely, in order to continue to develop the law... in the proper constitutional framework,” Beinisch said.

At the time that Israel was established, the provisional government planned to adopt a constitution, and even included a reference to “the Constitution which shall be adopted by the Elected Constituent Assembly not later than 1st October 1948” in the Declaration of Independence. However, debates over the content of the suggested constitution led its drafting to be repeatedly pushed off, and instead the Basic Laws were adopted one by one as a basis for a constitution.

Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, was against adopting a consitution so soon and  explained, “We don’t have time for this matter now. We need to build houses for new immigrants. We can create a constitution when we have some breathing room.…. When there are five million Jews in Israel, they can break their heads on drafting a constitution.” That number has been reached.

Over time, the Jewish state has developed an operative constitution, embodied in a set of written texts that reflect the political system on which the state is based, its social content, and an expanding constitutional tradition

Religious parties have consistently opposed the adoption of a constitution that is not based on Jewish law and would be above the Jewish Code of Law on topics that are pertinent to both. One of the sources of contention is the Law of Return and the definition of  "Who is a Jew" that might be part of a constitution. Another, which splits the left and right,  is whether the state should be called a Jewish state, the state of the Jewish People or a Jewish and Democratic state. Yet another is the question of changes in the electoral system and the balance between Legislative and Judiciary powers.

At least 25 draft consitutions were prepared by various bodies over the years, the most well known being that of the Israel Democracy Institute in 2005, written by an eight member committee chaired by former Chief Justice Meir Shamgar. The Institute for Zionist Strategies, headed by Yisrael Harel and including Natan Sharansky as one of its members, drafted a constitution in response in 2008 that it claimed preserved the Jewish character of the state, while the IDI stressed only democratic values..

Beinisch also recommended that Israel increase funding for its court system. “I call on the relevant authorities to do their part to fortify the justice system... The number of judges in the court system should be significantly increased, and the system given the tools it needs to meet its goals,” she said.