Justice Aharon Barak joined the Supreme Court of Israel in 1978, and became its President in 1995, serving until 2006. He is widely considered one of the greatest Israeli jurists. (See his full bio here.) This morning the Academic Partners for Peace DR Law Faculty had the honor of spending more than an hour listening to him discuss fascinating topics ranging from the Israeli “constitution” to the Camp David Middle East Peace talks in 1978. His words provided a greater understanding of the legal system here and the role of the courts in resolving disputes.
As it turns out, Israel does not have a “Constitution,” but it does have 12 basic laws (branches of government; human dignity; liberty; etc.) that collectively are considered the country’s Constitution. It was not until 1995 that the Israeli Supreme Court adopted a version of judicial review, ruling 8-1 in an opinion authored by Justice Barak that those 12 laws are “super statutes” and thus, to the extent another Israeli law conflicted with or limited those 12 laws, it would be struck down under a proportionality test. In effect, this transformed Israel from an English-type of Parliamentary system to a Constitutional democracy, with long-lasting political ramifications.
Justice Barak spent some time discussing how the Israeli Supreme Court does not put up obstacles to hearing cases like those erected by the US Supreme Court, such as doctrines of standing, justiciability, full appellate review and others. He also is a great supporter of ADR, not because of its role in de-clogging the courts, but because it makes for a better society in his view. Israeli law provides for ADR by statute, as part of a broader societal movement to resolve conflict by consensus, not by fighting.
Justice Barak then reminisced on his time as a peace negotiator for Israel at Camp David. We asked his views on the current state of the peace process. A bit to my surprise, he expressed the view that President Trump might be the one to get the parties to the negotiating table, because he is so unpredictable that parties might accept an invitation from him to peace talks. He does believe that no talks could be successful unless all the Arab nations participate, not just the Palestinian Authority.
All in all, a fascinating discussion of legal and political “hot topics” in Israel!