Democracy

Toward a Thin Constitution Anchoring Israeli Governance

The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) aims to prepare a detailed proposal for a Thin constitution. For this purpose, two working groups have been established: one group includes professionals whose role is to propose the constitutional arrangements; this is known as the “Research Group.” Alongside it is a second group – the “Thin Constitution Council” – which serves the Research Group in an advisory capacity; its composition reflects all sectors of Israeli society.
If we are successful, the State of Israel will enjoy a stable institutional system and regime.

Toward a Thin Constitution Anchoring Israeli Governance

In constitutional democracies, the rules of the game by which the state is run – including the powers of the branches of government and the system of checks and balances between them – are anchored in the state constitution and cannot be changed without broad agreement. In addition, a constitutional culture prevails in most democratic countries, meaning that it is inconceivable to the governing authorities to change the constitutional arrangements to suit their momentary convenience.

However, this is not the case in Israel. The rules of our game are fixed in regular laws and Basic Laws, which carry constitutional weight. And both can be changed without broad consensus. This is a fault, and it sets Israeli democracy on a slippery and dangerous slope: a tiny coalition majority can change, for example, the election laws, the powers of the court, and even the current regime in the country.

This is not merely a theoretical concern. Over the past decade, the Knesset has changed the Basic Laws of the State of Israel many more times than all the amendments made to the American Constitution since it came into effect in 1789. All recent Israeli prime ministers, from all sides of the political spectrum, have chosen to change the Basic Laws to suit their political needs. The judicial reform proposed about a year ago was one dramatic step along the same path.

Precisely because the ideological social divide runs deep in Israel, we need a constitutional document that will anchor the rules of the game for the proper functioning of the government system – a “procedural constitution,” also known as a “thin constitution.” Unlike a full constitution, a thin constitution does not deal with the vision and mission of the state. Instead, it focuses on the design of governing institutions to provide certainty that the state’s decision-making is conducted fairly and efficiently. An adequate thin constitution will ensure proper citizen representation and the decentralization of political power. It would strengthen the system of checks and balances, which is under constant threat in the current state of affairs. A thin constitution would be the safe harbor for Israel’s democratic regime.

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The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) aims to prepare a detailed proposal for a thin constitution. For this purpose, two working groups have been established: one group will involve professionals whose role will be to propose the arrangements; we will call this the “Research Group.” Alongside it there will be a second group – the “Thin Constitution Council” – which will serve the Research Group in an advisory capacity; its composition will reflect all sectors of Israeli society.

JPPI also intends to establish a public arm of the program, which will work to make the idea of a thin constitution and the concrete arrangements we will offer accessible to the general public, as well as an educational arm. We intend to hold public conferences for professionals and other relevant influential audiences, to generate broad support for the effort itself and its products.

Finally, it should be emphasized that a thin constitution cannot be a substitute for the establishment of a full constitution for the State of Israel, which owes itself a fundamental clarification of its principles and its identity, and it must make a commitment to a rich bill of human rights.

The program presented here focuses on the procedural, institutional aspects of the functioning of the State of Israel. If we are successful, the State of Israel will enjoy a stable institutional system and regime. Its existence will allow all parties in the Israeli dispute to conduct their debates in future generations on the basis of agreed and fair rules of the game that cannot be manipulated for the sole purpose of serving transient interests.

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