Peres: Israeli right-wing bills are 'digression from democracy'
President criticizes series of controversial bills that would change the face of Israel's Supreme Court and restrict foreign funding of Israeli NGOs.
By Oren Majar
President Shimon Peres on Tuesday harshly criticized a series of controversial bills recently proposed by right-wing lawmakers, saying they indicate a digression from democracy.
Peres spoke about the recent bills proposed to change the face of Israel's Supreme Court, which critics say would restrict freedom of expression and weaken the judicial system.
"These proposals deviate from the basis of democracy," Peres said during a conference for Israeli youth in Kiryat Gat.
"A government is not elected to rule, but to serve," Peres said."Every leader must be measured in one way: Is he serving us or are we serving him? I urge all elected officials – if you want to serve then you must serve the entire public."
Peres also spoke about the recent approval of bills that restrict foreign funding of Israeli NGOs, asking, "What's wrong with people donating to different kinds of organizations? Who decides what is 'political'?"
He emphasized that "ruling" is a sign of a dictatorship, while "serving" is a sign of democracy.
The Knesset approved on Monday evening a bill proposing to abolish the rule that a justice cannot be appointed Supreme Court president unless he is at least three years short of the mandatory retirement age of 70. The bill would pave Justice Asher Grunis' way to becoming Supreme Court president. Fifty-two MKs voted in favor, 35 voted against the bill.
Grunis is seen as a conservative judge who mostly refrains from intervening in decisions made by the executive and legislative branches, and is thus popular with right-wing politicians. But when Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch retires at the end of February 2012, Grunis will be five weeks short of three years from retirement.
Another bill, dubbed 'the Sohlberg bill,' and sponsored by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu) was also approved. The bill would change the way the Israel Bar Association's two representatives on the Judicial Appointments Committee are selected. Currently, the bar's national council picks both; the bill would require one to be the bar chairman and the other a member of the bar's internal opposition.
The bill paves the way for Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg to sitting on Israel's highest tribunal of justice. Sohlberg, who lives in the settlement of Alon Shvut, has in the past been criticized for rulings thought to infringe freedom of the press.