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Basic Laws

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Basic Laws - (Hebrew "Hukei Yesod" - Singular - "Hok Yesod")  Though  a constitution was to have been enacted by October of 1948 by  the "Va'ada Mechonent - the Constituent Assembly - this proved to be impossible. Therefore it was proposed that the constitution be built in stages, by Yizhar Harari of the Progressive party. The Harari proposal, adopted June 13, 1950  stated::

"The First Knesset assigns to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee the preparation of a proposed constitution for the state. The constitution will be made up of chapters, each of which will constitute a separate basic law. The chapters will be brought to the Knesset, as the Committee completes its work, and all the chapters together will constitute the constitution of the state."

This process of piecemeal legislation has resulted in a number of "Basic Laws," revised periodically, that together make up a partial constitutional framework.

The conflicts that have prevented promulgation of a constitution are:

  • Separation of Church and State versus the desire of religious parties to enact Halachic law and to prevent the free exercise of non-Orthodox versions of Judaism.

  • Desire to declare Israel to be a State of the Jewish People versus the principle of equality of all citizens under the law.

  • Civil liberties versus laws and practices that result from the perpetual state of war.

These issues are seized upon by anti-Zionists to declare that Israel is a "racist" state. However, the civil liberties issues  are not much different from those encountered in the United States during the Civil War, the  World Wars and the current Iraq war, and  in England over the issue of establishment of the England, or in France over the issue of secular society and the ban on head-scarves and other religious symbols in schools. The continued existence of the Emergency Laws of 1945 and the use of administrative detention are  problematic for civil liberties. 

Some opined that basic laws have no precedence over ordinary law, unless they include a specific stipulation to the contrary. These base their position on the argument that since a basic law is passed by an ordinary majority (i.e. a majority of those voting), such a majority cannot grant superior status to a piece of legislation. Others claim that the superiority of basic laws stems from the fact that they are the product of the Knesset acting as the Constituent Assembly, and that given definition as "basic laws" one may conclude that they are constitutionally superior.

In practice, basic laws do take precedence over other legislation. On September 24, 1997, a precedent setting ruling by the High Court of Justice cancelled several instructions in the law for regulating the occupation of investment consultancy. In the opinion of the High Court, they contradict the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation "to a degree that exceeds that required to realize the goal of the law." On October 14, 1999, the HCJ ruled that an article in a law, which contradicted the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, was null and void. The article in question was article 237a(a) of the Military Judgment Law, that enabled a military policeman to detain a soldier for four days without first bringing him before a judge. The matter of precedence of basic laws will eventually be settled by a basic law. This in itself would appear to establish the special constitutional status of such laws.

Enactment of a constitution has been a perennial goal of many governments. In recent years, the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee began drafting a constitution, under the impetus of the now defunct Shinui Party.. The committee presented a set of proposals to the Knesset on February 13, 2006,  The leaders of Israel's three largest parties (Prime Minister-elect Ehud Olmert of Kadima, Amir Peretz  of the Israel Labor party, and Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud) endorsed the work and called upon the 17th Knesset to bring a full draft of a constitution to a first reading in the plenum. Given the fundamental controversies that must be addressed, and the nature of coalition governments, it is somewhat unlikely that these provisions will be accepted as a constitution in the near future.

Existing basic laws:

Basic Law: The Knesset (1958)
Basic Law: Israel Lands as Basic Law: The People's Lands (1960)
Basic Law: The President of the State (1964)
Basic Law: The Government (1968 - null)
Basic Law: The State Economy (1975)
Basic Law: The Army (1976)
Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel (1980)
Basic Law: The Judiciary (1984)
Basic Law: The State Comptroller (1988)
Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty (1992)
Basic Law: The Government (1992 - null)
Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation (1992 - null)
Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation (1994)
Basic Law: The Government (2001)


The Knesset (1958), Israel Lands (1960), The President of the State (1964), The State Economy (1975), The Army (1976), Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel (1980), The Judiciary (1984), The State Comptroller (1988), Human Dignity and Liberty (1992), Freedom of Occupation (1994), and The Government (2001).

Synonyms and alternate spellings: Hukei Yesod

Further Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Laws_of_Israel http://www.knesset.gov.il/description/eng/eng_mimshal_yesod.htm

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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This work is copyright 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. This entry contains material that is copyright by MideastWeb for Coexistence   Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


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