Attorney Ran Bar Yoshafat, Deputy Director of Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative think-tank which favors changes to Israel’s judiciary, spoke to Israel National News on Sunday, hours after leftist protesters broke into the Jerusalem offices of the organization.
“People broke into our offices today, physically and verbally attacking our staff, pushing people. This is, in my opinion, something that is extremely unacceptable in a democracy,” said Bar Yoshafat.
“We are a think-tank, and the fact that people think they can literally barge in and attack our employees is, in my understanding, not democratic by any means,” he added.
“I think that, at the end of the day, there is a small marginal part in the far-left that believes that, if you’re a right-winger, you’re one of two: Either you’re not very intelligent, or you’re evil. And basically that’s what they’re saying. Because Kohelet is filled with doctors and professors of law and economy, and they’re saying, ‘You guys are the root of evil, so we’re allowed to attack you physically.’ Just to remind you, two weeks ago they put barbed wire and bags of cement [in order] to block the doors, they locked two employees inside the office and prevented others from stepping into the office.”
Bar Yoshafat continued, “It’s really strange to me that they’re saying they’re doing this in the name of democracy, because to prevent freedom of expression and freedom of speech and freedom of research from a not-for-profit think-tank, that’s definitely not democratic. That’s closer to North Korea.”
Asked how he views the protests by the left against the judicial reform plan being promoted by the government, he replied, “Even those who are protesting against me, the vast majority I call them patriotic people who are unhappy with the government and they have a right to protest. I think it’s kind of odd to say that they’re protesting against the legal reform because I think most people now believe that there should be a legal reform in Israel, and the legal reform that was proposed would make Israel more democratic, not less.”
“However,” he added, “[those protesters] are unhappy with the government, they are unhappy with the fact that you have a Prime Minister who is being indicted and a Minister who was already convicted, and I’m not disrespecting their arguments. I have empathy towards them but I am saying, at the end of the day, that what they caused was the legal reform to go into a halt, while all of the bad laws that they’re unhappy with – these are the laws that are being passed right now – which means that it’s kind of funny to say that they’re against the legal reform because of different types of laws that they’re unhappy with – [and now] these are the laws that were actually passed and the legal reform is now being halted.”
“I think it would make more sense to say, ‘I’m protesting bad laws, not a necessary legal reform,” added Bar Yoshafat.
To the question of what he would like to see at the conclusion of the negotiations on the reform, he replied, “At the end of the day, I think unity is more important than this clause or that clause in the overall legal reform. I do think that there are a few things you cannot ignore, and one of them is the committee that nominates judges, because in theory, if judges in Israel would just follow the law and would be more aligned to the text, then we would not have a problem and anyone could be a judge. But because judges in Israel do interfere in political decision, in moral decisions and they bring their own set of values, then it should be more diverse.”
“Right now, the fact that people are saying that ‘it’s the end of the world if the coalition nominates two judges’, I think it’s not really a fair argument, but I think that you can find a creative solution that will make the government happy and will make those who are against the legal reform happy.”
Asked whether perhaps those who are in favor of the reform failed in properly promoting the reform, Bar Yoshafat said, “I agree 100%, I just think it’s interesting that this is a question that is being pointed to the Kohelet Policy Forum. We’re a think-tank. We do research and we say that ‘this is what exists in the world, this is what exists in Israel, we think there’s an anomaly here and we think that this needs to be changed’. I would expect the government to say, ‘I want to push for a legal reform, let me explain to you why it’s necessary’. It’s also a bit odd for me to see that this legal reform, that has been pushed for about two and a half decades, not just by right-wingers, [but also] by Yitzchak Rabin, by Chaim Herzog, by Tommy Lapid, by Yair Lapid, by Haim Ramon, by Tzipi Livni – all of a sudden it goes into a halt because it’s coming from a very ‘right-wing government’. So I’m not sure that’s really a fair question, but at the end of the day I agree with you that I would expect the government that, if they want to push for such a reform, to tell the people what is it that they’re doing and why they’re doing it.”
On the opposition of the US to the reform, which would see Israeli politicians selecting their judges similar to what happens in the US, Bar Yoshafat said, “I think it’s even trickier. First of all, sovereign states make their own decisions. The US is our number one ally, I have tremendous respect for America, but it’s not acceptable for the US to interfere with inter-Israeli disputes.”
“Number two,” he added, “I don’t want to pick and choose because people could say, ‘It’s true that in America the President nominates the judges with the approval of the Senate, but they also have different things that we don’t have, like a written constitution and two houses [of parliament] and so on and so forth’. I have to say, by the way, I think it’s a very weak argument, because if the argument is that we don’t have a constitution in Israel, then there’s no argument, because the Supreme Court doesn’t have the power to do anything. They cannot cancel laws. So we have somewhat of a constitution.”
“I think that the legal reform, if anything, it will make Israel more democratic and not less. But again, I think the unity of the people is more important than this clause or that clause in an article that is supposed to be pushed forward in a legal reform,” concluded Bar Yoshafat.