What's next for opposition to Israel judicial reform now that one measure has passed?
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
People of all ages are protesting in Israel. Doctors and lawyers are among those objecting to the parliament removing a check on its power.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).
INSKEEP: Some of the sounds of the past day, and we've heard similar sounds for months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies passed a change that effectively increases their own power. Netanyahu says he will begin a dialogue now with opposition politicians over the remainder of his judicial changes. He wants more. Physicist Shikma Bressler has become a leading figure in the protest movement, and she's on the line from Israel. Welcome to the program.
SHIKMA BRESSLER: Hello.
INSKEEP: There is a sense in which the majority in the Knesset would like to say this is over. They acted. They voted. They outvoted your side, which walked out. Can you go on after that defeat?
BRESSLER: Yeah, well, we have no choice. I wish we shouldn't have to, but what they started yesterday is basically a salami routine similar to the one that took place in Poland ahead of us and in Hungary. And if they proceed, and they intend to proceed - they tell us that they intend to proceed - then we will be remaining with an empty democracy with no heart, actually.
INSKEEP: I would like to explain what you're saying to an American audience or remind people if they don't follow it closely. When you say in Poland and in Hungary, you're talking about democratic states where there was a leader who has become more authoritarian, removed checks on his power over time. Is that what your concern is here?
BRESSLER: Exactly, and completely emptying the soul, heart of the democratic values, the liberal values from every authority and every, you know, constitution - institution and constitution, basically, of the state. I would also like to remind maybe the audience or tell the audience - people may not be aware - that the only check and balances that the Israeli system has on the government activities are coming from the judicial system. We have no presidency. We have no second house. We have no constitution.
So the only checks and balances system has to do with the law system and the judicial system. And what was happening yesterday is that the only effective way of the judicial system to overrule or to reject decision which has no reason in them taken by the government, basically, is now no longer there. That means that, for instance, they can nominate non-legitimate people for important duties and so on. And this is what they are willing and interested in doing. This is why they came with this idea in the beginning.
INSKEEP: Our colleague Daniel Estrin gave an example of this recently, that there was an attempt to put someone in the government who'd been recently convicted of a crime. The Supreme Court said that's not reasonable, and so it couldn't be done. And that is a power that's being taken away from the Supreme Court. But would you answer, please, the argument of proponents for this change. They will essentially say, well, we're in favor of democracy. These unelected judges shouldn't be telling us what to do. We have a majority in the Knesset. We've got 64 votes. We should do what we want. How do you answer that?
BRESSLER: Yeah, so I think that no majority can do what it wants. No majority can overrule the basic, you know, values and the basic ideas of freedoms and liberty and equality. And this is what they intend to do. This is who they are, who this government is led by - highly extremist, racist group of people, which unfortunately, I mean, Prime Minister Netanyahu decide to follow instead of leading. So I would say that no majority whatsoever - this is why, for instance, you have, you know, a constitution, right? No majority whatsoever has the right to override or to take away, you know, basic ideas like, as I said, equality and liberty.
INSKEEP: I'm interested in something you just said there, because you said Netanyahu decided to follow extremists instead of leading. Netanyahu was on this program a few months ago, just as he was forming his government. And he said of the right wingers in his coalition, they are joining me. I'm not joining them. I will tell them what to do. I will protect people's rights. It sounds like you do not have any faith that that is the case.
BRESSLER: Yeah, I think that President - Prime Minister Netanyahu have said many things in English to the U.S. administration and to the U.S. people. And - but when he speak in Hebrew, he said completely different things. And when you look at his actions and what his government is actually doing, you would see that, unfortunately, I have no reason - no other word but saying that he was lying to you guys over there. And you just need to read, you know - to read the lines and see in between the lines and see what is actually going on here and what is happening here. This is just not the truth, unfortunately.
INSKEEP: Shikma Bressler is one of the leaders of Israel's protest movement, which has vowed to continue despite a defeat in the Knesset yesterday. Thank you so much.
BRESSLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.