Begin, champion of the rule of law
by Aviad HaCohen
Menachem Begin did not fear the rule of law. He liked it and respected it. Perhaps because he was a leader who spent most of his days in the desert of the opposition, head of a minority that was persecuted and denounced by the regime (Ben-Gurion famously delineated the boundaries of legitimate political parties in the early years of the state when he said "without Herut or Maki," referring to two political parties of the day), until he eventually became prime minister.
Now, in our time, there are those who seek to recreate Begin in their own image, painting him as a fierce opponent of the Supreme Court and the principle of the supremacy of the law. They would be well advised to re-read his writings and the history books.
Begin knew very well, and made sure to emphasize whenever he could, in writing and in speeches, that the rule of law - unlike the rule of flesh and blood - is a guarantee of a properly functioning democratic regime, and a central factor in the protection of the rights of minorities.
It is no accident that after the High Court ordered the evacuation of an illegal settlement, it was Menachem Begin of all people who took it upon himself, although he clearly did not want to, to uphold the authority of the ruling. On his first visit to Alon Moreh, he uttered his unforgettable statement, which entered the national lexicon, that "there are judges in Jerusalem."
Former Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak's years as the government's legal advisor were turbulent. Barak was not deterred from the thunder breaking loudly around him, and used legal means to pursue the loftiest nobles, according to the famous "Buzaglo test" [which posited that the powerful and connected should receive the same treatment at the hands of government institutions as the simplest of people].
One of Barak's greatest supporters was Menachem Begin. While many in Begin's party sought to have Barak, who had been appointed by the previous Alignment [the precursor to the Labor party] government, removed, Begin not only left him in his position, but even made him a full partner in the diplomatic negotiations at Camp David (and not only on the legal side), when it was already clear that he was headed to the Supreme Court.
Later, Barak said of Begin that any time he would bring a legal matter before him, be it on an internal social matter or external diplomatic one, Begin would show himself to be someone for whom "the rule of law is in his blood and the supremacy of the law is in his soul."
Begin responded similarly when his government's first legal advisor, Y.S. Shapira, asked to attend cabinet meetings. By ordering that the government's legal adviser be present at all cabinet meetings, the first Likud prime minister did what no Mapai government had done before him. This did not prevent him from disagreeing with the legal adviser's position.
One of the famous disagreements between the two related to amnesty for Yehoshua Ben-Zion, the managing director of Israel-British Bank, who was convicted of embezzlement. Begin strongly supported granting Ben-Zion amnesty, while Barak objected to it.
Begin was one of the first to demand appreciation for "the supremacy of the law." Beyond the legal education he received at the University of Warsaw, Begin knew that were it not for fear of the government, men would swallow each other alive. Except for one exception when he led the masses against the reparations agreement with Germany, Begin always called for respecting the government's authority, the law and the court's judgements, even when he disagreed with them.
For this same reason, Begin also exhibited leadership during the traumatic Altalena crisis. Despite his considering it an act of tragic foolishness, Begin called on all of his colleagues to act with restraint and refrained from using force or violating the law against the government's actions. This is also how he acted during the decades that he spent as part of the opposition. His words were harsh, but always within the framework of the law.
Longing for Jabotinsky and Begin
by Yaakov Ahimeir
It is doubtful that all Likud voters have studied Vladimir Jabotinsky's doctrine. It is likely that in the eyes of the current generation of Likud adherents, "Menachem Begin" is just a name, just like the names of streets in Israeli cities. But these two, Begin and Jabotinsky, would probably turn over in their graves if they heard the rumors that their names have become a symbol and a paradigm for democracy and liberalism.
Reading the statements of contemporary political rivals, you would think that Jabotinsky is no less than "Montesquieu No. 1" and Begin "Montesquieu No. 2," after the French Enlightenment-era political thinker famous for his theories on class division and the separation of power. In short, we have been overcome with nostalgia; but it is nostalgia for two names that were once, and still are, abhorred. Politicians and commentators who once cursed Jabotinsky and Begin are today praising their names. How did Israeli television anchor and documentary filmmaker Haim Yavin put it? A revolution!
Some of today's politicians have even been named as the successors of Jabotinsky and Begin, starting with Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and continuing with Ministers Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Limor Livnat, Gideon Sa'ar and Michael Eitan. How can that be? After all, they themselves remember how in their parents house, throughout their youth, these two names were synonyms for poor management of the state. But even when those two names were slandered, they were the same Jabotinsky and Begin that today are showered with praises.
Few truly remember the invectives hurled at the two: Jabotinsky's "insufferable" militarism or Begin, who until the electoral revolution in 1977 was a "war instigator," for example. That is just the tip of the iceberg of negative characteristics associated with the two. Today, if their ears are perked up in heaven, if they are listening to the complimentary descriptions of them, there is no doubt that the two, experienced with fierce struggles, are soberly saying to themselves: "After all, we know from our own experience in public life that our names are only used down below at times when there are political quarrels between two rival camps."
These two names are certainly invoked to gain points in the struggles over proposed legislation. Any serious historian could examine Jabotinsky and Begin and find both light and shadows in their intellectual and political personalities. Indeed, such is the case with anyone who truly made history. Even Thomas Jefferson, an enlightened liberal who designed the American spirit, was also a slave-owner.
How Begin's legacy was distorted
ny Giora Goldberg
The dispute over the judiciary's authority has increasingly been the subject of public debate, now more so than in the past. The recent proposed legislation over the issue has deepened the controversy. Among the various arguments that have been raised, particularly fascinating are those based on former Prime Minister Menachem Begin's legacy. Begin's name has been invoked in a manipulative manner without anyone knowing exactly what "supremacy of the law" -- a concept the former prime minister wrote about when he was part of the opposition in the 1950s -- actually is.
Begin's political wisdom, coupled with his strong sense of justice, is what inspired him. As an oppositionist, he was well aware that the strengthening of the courts may indeed sometimes make for short-term political gains. However, as a parliamentarian and long-term national leader, he knew that judicial activism could also lead to the weakening of the state, the destruction of its democratic rule and a distortion of the people's will.
All those who connect Begin with judicial activism either do not know a thing about his legacy or simply distort it. In that same essay on the "supremacy of the law," Begin opined that judges are appointed "either by the executive branch or by the legislative branch, or by both of them together." There is no mention of involvement by judges or lawyers in the body responsible for the appointment of judges.
It was possible to oppose the recently proposed legislation according to which supreme court judges should undergo a parliamentary hearing before being appointed, but it is impossible to argue that this legislation goes against Begin's legacy. His position is closer to the proponents of this idea rather than to its opponents.
It is important to deepen our understanding of Begin's doctrines regarding the relationship between the different government authorities. Begin expressed support for granting the Supreme Court authority to interpret laws passed by the Knesset, based on the principles contained in the Basic Laws of Israel. If the court, for example, finds that a law passed by the Knesset contradicts a provision within the Basic Laws, the court has the authority to reject it.
That is, the Knesset, not the Supreme Court, is the sole constitutional authority. After the Knesset creates an official constitution, in which it will be established that the court has the authority to interpret laws according to this constitution, only then will the court have the authority to do so.
A "constitutional revolution" -- in the style of former Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak -- in fact, collides with Begin's legacy.
Judicial activism and even a constitutional revolution can be supported, but the invocation of Begin's legacy to promote these concepts constitutes a distortion of his legacy.
Those who are not convinced by this argument, are invited to read Begin's article on the "supremacy of the law," which is stored with dignity and honor in the website of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.