A group of former Israeli judges has signed an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which they compared his attempts to limit the power of the Supreme Court to the rise of Nazism in Germany.
The letter, which was sent yesterday to the prime minister, stated that “we, 98 retired judges from all the judicial courts in Israel, who have dedicated our lives to justice, hereby call for the defense of the foundations of democracy and the legal system in Israel.”
“The justice system,” the letter continued, “is responsible for safeguarding the delicate balances required to safeguard fundamental values and protect human rights wherever they may be; and the reduction of the powers of the courts in any form constitutes a severe violation of the rule of law.”
The letter’s reference to a “reduction of the powers of the courts” comes amid ongoing reports that Netanyahu is working to include a “legal appendix” in his coalition agreement, which will allow the Knesset to “override” rulings by the Supreme Court. His moves have been interpreted as an attempt to guarantee his immunity in three corruption cases, for which he faces charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust that, if found guilty, could see him face up to ten years in prison.
The letter also wrote that “there have been, throughout history, countries with democratic regimes where movements were established that used the rights granted to them in order to carry out destructive activities to protect themselves.”
This, according to the Times of Israel, was a reference to a 1964 Supreme Court ruling by Alfred Witkon, a German-born Israeli Chief Justice, who stated: “More than once in history have fascist and totalitarian movements risen to establishment in proper democratic regimes, where they used all the rights of freedom of speech, press and association granted by the state in order to carry out destructive activities to protect themselves.” Witkon’s ruling continued: “Anyone who saw this during the days of the Weimar Republic [the German government from 1918-1933 which gave rise to the election of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler] will not forget this lesson.”
Though the likening of Netanyahu’s actions to the rise of Nazism will likely be seen as controversial in Israel, the country is no stranger to using the analogy for its own ends.
Just last week, the German parliament passed a bill labelling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement anti-Semitic. The bill claimed that BDS’ “don’t buy” stickers – which aim to identify products of Israeli origin so consumers can refrain from purchasing them – “arouse associations [with] the Nazi slogan ‘Don’t buy from Jews’” and are “reminiscent of the most horrific phase in German history”.
The move was seen as the culmination of an ongoing crackdown on BDS in Germany at the behest of Israel, with whom it maintains close relations. Israel has stepped up its efforts to curtail the influence of BDS in Europe, sending envoys to convince European political parties of the movement’s anti-Semitism and spending millions of dollars on smear campaigns against its activists.
Netanyahu himself has in the past come under fire for seeming to echo remarks made by Hitler. In September, the prime minister wrote on Twitter that “the weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong”.
Commentators highlighted the similarities between Netanyahu’s remarks and Nazism’s “survival of the fittest” ideology, citing a 1923 speech Hitler made in Munich in which he said, “the whole of nature is a mighty struggle between strength and weakness, an eternal victory of the strong over the weak”.
In 2015, Netanyahu was accused of whitewashing Nazism’s crimes against the Jewish people after he claimed that “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews”. Netanyahu instead falsely claimed that “[Grand Mufti of Jerusalem] Haj Amin Al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here [to Palestine].’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ Hitler asked Al-Husseini. ‘Burn them!’ the Grand Mufti replied”.
No record exists of such a conversation.