Israel – Basic Laws

Latest Developments – 26 Jul 2023 amendment to the Judiciary Law – Reasonableness (Hebrew and unofficial English translation)


Supreme Court overrules the amendment – claims the right to overturn a basic law

The following Introduction and Summaries of each Basic Law are from the Israeli Knesset. Other material is in brackets.

Introduction:   The Constituent Assembly and the First Knesset were unable to put a constitution together.  As a resulty, the Knesset started to legislate basic laws on various subjects. After all the basic laws will be enacted, they will constitute together, with an appropriate introduction and several general rulings, the constitution of the State of Israel.

Following the adoption of the Harari proposal in 1950, work began on the legislation of the basic laws, the first of which – Basic Law: the Knesset, which was initiated by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee – was adopted by the Third Knesset.

Regarding the question of the superiority of the basic laws over other laws, there are differences of opinion. Some claim that the basic laws are not superior to an 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 from their mere definition as “basic laws” one may conclude that they are constitutionally superior.

What happens when there is a contradiction between a basic law and an ordinary law passed after the basic law was passed? The answer to this question hasn’t yet been given in any law, but the High Court of Justice has related to it in several rulings: On September 24, 1997, the HCJ with a make-up of 11 judges cancelled in a precedental ruling several instructions in the law for regulating the occupation of investment consultancy. In the opinion of the High Court, they contradict Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation “to a degree which supercedes that required to realize the goal of the law.” On October 14, 1999, the HCJ ruled, once again with a make-up of 11 judges, that an article in a law, which contradicted Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, was null and void. The article in question was article 237a(a) of the Military Judgement Law, that enabled a military policeman to detain a soldier for four days without first bringing him before a judge.

Compilation of the Basic Laws in Hebrew, as of 14 Jun 2018 (from the Knesset website).

Summaries, and links to the texts in English (these unofficial translations were prepared by Dr. Susan Hattis Rolef):

Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People [Hebrew text and explanation in Hebrew and English (Google translation)] Passed on July 19, 2018, by the Twentieth Knesset.

The law determines, among other things, that the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people; the State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and that exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People. The law also deals with the State’s symbols and official language, the status of Jerusalem, the State’s connection with the Jewish People and the Ingathering of Exiles.  [Analysis of the law from The Israeli Supreme Court Blog]

[As this law has been the subject of widespread criticism, including accusations of apartheid, it is useful to compare the Israeli law with the constitutions of a number of other countries.  The 21 countries in the posted list, all have constitutional provisions concerning the ethnic and/or religious basis of their society — comparable to Israel’s Nation State Law.  Of the 21 countries, all except 6 (Greece, Malaysia, Morocco, Norway, the Palestinian Authority, Thailand) have ratified the International Apartheid Convention, apparently seeing no contradiction between their constitutional provisions and the Apartheid Convention.  The relevant constitutional provisions of the 21 countries, in English translation, are extracted in the posted list, with links to the entire constitution, also in English translation.  These are from the comprehensive collection maintained by The Comparative Constitutions Project.]

Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty (1992) 
Passed on March 17, 1992, by the Twelfth Knesset.

The law determines that the basic human rights in Israel are based on the recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of his life, and his being a free person. The purpose of the law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to anchor the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in a basic law. The law defines human freedom in Israel as being the right to leave the country and enter it, as well as the right to privacy and intimacy, refrainment from searches relating to one’s private property, body and possessions, and avoidance of violations of the privacy of one’s speech, writings and notes. Violations of the dignity or freedom of man is permitted only in accordance with the law. The law includes an instruction regarding its permanence and protection from changes by means of emergency regulations.

Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation (1994)
The law was passed in its original version on March 3, 1992, by the Twelfth Knesset. The second version of the law was passed on March 9, 1994, by the Thirteenth Knesset.

The law established the right of every citizen or inhabitant to engage in any occupation, profession or trade unless a law which corresponds to the values of the State of Israel, and which serves an appropriate purpose, determines otherwise. The law includes an instruction regarding its permanence and protection from changes by means of emergency regulations. Only a majority of at least 61Knesset members can amend the law. However, the text states that the Knesset may pass a regular law that violates the freedom of occupation, with a majority of at least 61 Knesset members, if it explicitly states that it is valid “despite what is stated in this Basic Law.” The validity of such a law shall expire at the end of four years from its inception, unless an earlier date was prescribed in it.

Basic Law: Jerusalem, the Capital of Israel (1980) 
Passed on December 13, 1980, by the Ninth Knesset.

The intention of the law is to establish the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and secure its integrity and unity. It determines that Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court. The law also deals with the status of the holy sites, secures the rights of people of all religions, and states that Jerusalem shall be given special priority in the activities of the authorities of the State so as to further its development in economic and other matters. There are no entrenched clauses in this law.

Basic Law: the Knesset 
Passed on February 12, 1958, by the Third Knesset.

The first basic law passed by the Knesset. The law determines that the Knesset is the house of representatives of the State of Israel, that its seat is in Jerusalem and that upon election it should include 120 members. The law then deals with the electoral system, the right to vote and be elected, the Knesset’s term of office, the principles relating to the Knesset elections, the service of Knesset members, the parliamentary immunity of the Knesset members and the Knesset buildings, the work of the Knesset and its committees, and more. The law does not define the authorities of the Knesset. Article 4 of the law, which states that the Knesset shall be elected by general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional elections, can only be amended by a majority of 61 Knesset members. Article 44, which prevents the amendment of the law by means of the Emergency Regulation, can only be amended by a majority of 80 Knesset members. The law further states that the Knesset shall not extend its term except by law passed by a majority of 80 members of the Knesset and only if special circumstances exist that prevent holding the elections at their proper time. The law also determines the date of the general elections for the Knesset.

Basic Law: Israel Lands
Passed on July 25, 1960, by the Fourth Knesset.

The law prohibits the transfer of ownership over lands owned by the state, the Development Authority or the Jewish National Fund, either by sale or by any other means, with the exception of types of land or transactions that have been specified in the law. The law does not contain any entrenched clauses.

Basic Law: The President of the State (1994)
Passed on June 16, 1964, by the Fifth Knesset.

The law, which includes instructions that were previously scattered in other laws, determines that the President shall stand at the head of the State and that the place of residence of the President shall be Jerusalem. It further states that the President shall be elected by the Knesset for a period of seven years and will serve for one term only. The law also deals with the President’s qualifications and powers, and the procedures of the President’s work.

Basic Law: The Government (2001)
Passed initially on August 13, 1968, by the Sixth Knesset.

On March 18, 1992, the 12th Knesset replaced the law in order to change the electoral system, with the purpose of creating a direct prime ministerial elections system from the 14th Knesset and onward. The law, in its amended version, was approved by the 15th Knesset on March 7, 2001. It went into effect on the day of the elections for the 16th Knesset and repealed the direct election of the Prime Minister. The current version of the law determines that the seat of the Government is Jerusalem and that the Government holds office by virtue of the confidence of the Knesset and is collectively responsible to the Knesset. The law also determines the manner in which a government is formed, as well as its functions and powers. The law can only be amended by a vote of the majority of the Knesset members.

[The Government Law was amended through a series of actions by the Knesset in April, May, and July of 2018, in relation to national security.  See, a  review of the amendments from The Israeli Supreme Court Law Blog.]

Basic Law: The State Economy (1975)
Passed on July 21, 1975, by the Eighth Knesset.

The law determines the procedures for the imposition of taxes and fees, as well as the guidelines for conducting transactions in State property. It also determines the guidelines for setting the State budget and additional legislation related to the budget, as well as for the printing of legal tender currency notes and the minting of legal tender coins.

Basic Law: The Military (1976) 
Passed on March 31, 1976, by the Eighth Knesset.

Until the law was passed, the constitutional and legal basis for the operation of the Israel Defense Forces was to be found in the IDF Ordinance of 1948. The law is based on the said ordinance and determines that the IDF is the army of the State and that it is forbidden to form or maintain an armed force other than the IDF, save by law. The law also deals with mandatory service and enlistment, as well as with instructions and orders in the army. It further states that the army is subject to the authority of the Government and that the Minister of Defense is in charge of the army on behalf of the Government. The law determines the procedure for appointing the Chief of Staff and includes guidelines related to issues that were addressed by the Agranat Commission, which investigated the circumstances of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.

Basic Law: The Judiciary (1984)
Passed on February 28, 1984, by the Tenth Knesset.

The law establishes the authority of the courts in criminal and disciplinary proceedings, as well as the independence of the judiciary and the openness of judicial proceedings. It also determines the procedures for the appointment of judges. The law includes an instruction regarding its permanence and protection from changes by means of emergency regulations.

26 Jul 2023 amendment to the Judiciary Law – Reasonableness (Hebrew and unofficial English translation)

Basic Law: The State Comptroller (1988) 
Passed on February 15, 1988, by the Twelfth Knesset.

The law, a collection of instructions which had previously been scattered in other laws, determines the powers, tasks and duties of the State Comptroller, who also functions as Ombudsman. It also determines the manner in which the State Comptroller is elected and states that he/she is responsible solely to the Knesset.

Basic Law: Referendum (2014) 
Passed on March 12, 2014, by the Nineteenth Knesset.

The law determines that should the Government decide to ratify an agreement, or sign an agreement, according to which the law, jurisdiction and administration of the State of Israel shall no longer apply to territory in which they currently apply, including an agreement that involves a future undertaking, and a conditioned undertaking, after the agreement has been approved by the Knesset by an absolute majority, it shall require approval in a referendum, unless it has been approved by a majority of 80 Members of the Knesset. This law can only be changed by means of a basic law adopted by an absolute majority of the Knesset members.

Basic Law: The State Budget for the Years 2017 and 2018 (Special Provisions) (Temporary Provision)