## Statement of Jewish scientists opposing the “judicial reform” in Israel

Today, Dana and I unhesitatingly join a group of Jewish scientists around the world (see the full current list of signatories here, including Ed Witten, Steven Pinker, Manuel Blum, Shafi Goldwasser, Judea Pearl, Lenny Susskind, and several hundred more) who’ve released the following statement:

As Jewish scientists within the global science community, we have all felt great satisfaction and taken pride in Israel’s many remarkable accomplishments.  We support and value the State of Israel, its pluralistic society, and its vibrant culture.  Many of us have friends, family, and scientific collaborators in Israel, and have visited often.  The strong connections we feel are based both on our collective Jewish identity as well as on our shared values of democracy, pluralism, and human rights. We support Israel’s right to live in peace among its neighbors. Many of us have stood firmly against calls for boycotts of Israeli academic institutions.

Our support of Israel now compels us to speak up vigorously against incipient changes to Israel’s core governmental structure, as put forward by Justice Minister Levin, that will eviscerate Israel’s judiciary and impede its critical oversight function.  Such imbalance and unchecked authority invite corruption and abuse, and stifle the healthy interplay of core state institutions.  History has shown that this leads to oppression of the defenseless and the abrogation of human rights.  Along with hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who have taken to the streets in protest, we call upon the Israeli government to step back from this precipice and retract the proposed legislation.

Science today is driven by collaborations which bring together scholars of diverse backgrounds from across the globe. Funding, communication and cooperation on an international scale are essential aspects of the modern scientific enterprise, hence our extended community regards pluralism, secular and broad education, protection of rights for women and minorities, and societal stability guaranteed by the rule of law as non-negotiable virtues.  The consequences of Israel abandoning any of these essential principles would surely be grave, and would provoke a rift with the international scientific community.  In addition to significantly increasing the threat of academic, trade, and diplomatic boycotts, Israel risks a “brain drain” of its best scientists and engineers. It takes decades to establish scientific and academic excellence, but only a moment to destroy them. We fear that the unprecedented erosion of judiciary independence in Israel will set back the Israeli scientific enterprise for generations to come.

Our Jewish heritage forcefully emphasizes both justice and jurisprudence. Israel must endeavor to serve as a “light unto the nations,” by steadfastly holding to core democratic values – so clearly expressed in its own Declaration of Independence – which protect and nurture all of Israel’s inhabitants and which justify its membership in the community of democratic nations.

Those unaware of what’s happening in Israel can read about it here. If you don’t want to wade through the details, suffice it say that all seven living former Attorneys General of Israel, including those appointed by Netanyahu himself, strongly oppose the “judicial reforms.” The president of Israel’s Bar Association says that “this war is the most important we’ve had in the country’s 75 years of existence” and calls on all Israelis to take to the streets. Even Alan Dershowitz, controversial author of The Case for Israel, says he’d do the same if there. It’s hard to find any thoughtful person, of any political persuasion, who sees this act as anything other than the naked and illiberal power grab that it is.

Though I endorse every word of the scientists’ statement above, maybe I’ll add a few words of my own.

Jewish scientists of the early 20th century, reacting against the discrimination they faced in Europe, were heavily involved in the creation of the State of Israel. The most notable were Einstein (of course), who helped found the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Einstein’s friend Chaim Weizmann, founder of the Weizmann Institute of Science, where Dana studied. In Theodor Herzl’s 1902 novel Altneuland (full text)—remarkable as one of history’s few pieces of utopian fiction to serve later as a (semi-)successful blueprint for reality—Herzl imagines the future democratic, pluralistic Israel welcoming a steamship full of the world’s great scientists and intellectuals, who come to witness the new state’s accomplishments in science and engineering and agriculture. But, you see, this only happens after a climactic scene in Israel’s parliament, in which the supporters of liberalism and Enlightenment defeat a reactionary faction that wants Israel to become a Jewish theocracy that excludes Arabs and other non-Jews.

Today, despite all the tragedies and triumphs of the intervening 120 years that Herzl couldn’t have foreseen, it’s clear that the climactic conflict of Altneuland is playing out for real. This time, alas, the supporters (just barely) lack the votes in the Knesset. Through sheer numerical force, Netanyahu almost certainly will push through the power to dismiss judges and rulings he doesn’t like, and thereafter rule by decree like Hungary’s Orban or Turkey’s Erdogan. He will use this power to trample minority rights, give free rein to the craziest West Bank settlers, and shield himself and his ministers from accountability for their breathtaking corruption. And then, perhaps, Israel’s Supreme Court will strike down Netanyahu’s power grab as contrary to “Basic Law,” and then the Netanyahu coalition will strike down the Supreme Court’s action, and in a country that still lacks a constitution, it’s unclear how such an impasse could be resolved except through violence and thuggery. And thus Netanyahu, who calls himself “the protector of Israel,” will go down in history as the destroyer of the Israel that the founders envisioned.

Einstein and Weizmann have been gone for 70 years. Maybe no one like them still exists. So it falls to the Jewish scientists of today, inadequate though they are, to say what Einstein and Weizmann, and Herzl and Ben-Gurion, would’ve said about the current proceedings had they been alive. Any other Jewish scientist who agrees should sign our statement here. Of course, those living in Israel should join our many friends there on the streets! And, while this is our special moral responsibility—maybe, with 1% probability, some wavering Knesset member actually cares what we think?—I hope and trust that other statements will be organized that are open to Gentiles and non-scientists and anyone concerned about Israel’s future.

As a lifelong Zionist, this is not what I signed up for. If Netanyahu succeeds in his plan to gut Israel’s judiciary and end the state’s pluralistic and liberal-democratic character, then I’ll continue to support the Israel that once existed and that might, we hope, someday exist again.

[Discussion on Hacker News]

[Article in The Forward]

### 67 Responses to “Statement of Jewish scientists opposing the “judicial reform” in Israel”

1. bks Says:

Hope it has some effect. BTW, it must have been nice to always be the first person called in school because your surname begins Aa. Well, usually nice –sometimes scary.

2. Adam Treat Says:

Unfortunately, the struggle here seems in keeping with the worldwide spread of the authoritarian impulse. That spread has suffered important losses in recent near term world history. Here is to hoping another loss to the authoritarian impulse will be seen in Israel in near future.

3. JoshP Says:

Many thanks to you and to whoever signed this statement.

Unfortunately I don’t believe our elected Pharaoh will pay any attention to what he will perceive as an uninformed opinion of well-meaning misled persons, but in these awful days it is heart warming to know Israel still has so many distinguished supporters.

4. Shaked Koplewitz Says:

I’ve been working in Israel for the last few months. Feels like most of my company (even some of the right-leaning people*) have been going to the protests every weekend. I haven’t gone – I don’t think anything’s going to change things now. I’m mostly focusing on making backup plans about leaving again (permanently this time) if things keep going this way.

5. HasH Says:

The list of superstar scientists is just like the Milky Way. What a sad situation that a country founded by the most educated and secular people in the Middle East and the world is in conflict under the policies of bigotry and corruption. The future looks even darker now 🙁

6. Zalman Stern Says:

Is the current situation in Israel more robust than the US system re: politicians manipulating the courts via appointments? (Asking as it seems this is one of the changes they’re making and recent experience highlights that the US relies heavily on elected officials respecting balance of power rather than wishing to subvert or destroy it.)

7. Vladimir Says:

> […] suffice it say that all seven living former Attorneys General of Israel, including those appointed by Netanyahu himself, strongly oppose the “judicial reforms.” The president of Israel’s Bar Association says that […]

What a shocker. I haven’t been this surprised since my cat refused to relinquish its self-imposed cream-guarding duty.

8. Scott Says:

Vladimir #7: Can you name a single jurist or philosopher or scientist or writer who I’d have prior reason to respect, in Israel or anywhere else on the planet, who’s looked into these judicial reforms and thinks that they’re a good idea?

9. Scott Says:

Zalman Stern #6: God knows the US has its own problems, from the Electoral College to the gerrymandered Congress to the now totally-politicized Supreme Court … and those problems very nearly led to the total collapse of American democracy just two years ago and they might do so still! So I wouldn’t recommend the particulars of our system to any other country on earth.

On the other hand, the specific existential crisis into which Israeli democracy is now headed, is mostly prevented in the US by the Constitution and the >200-year-old precedent of Marbury vs. Madison, which clearly set out the power of the Supreme Court to declare things unconstitutional unless they’re amendments to the Constitution itself (which have an extremely high bar for passage).

10. Mitchell Porter Says:

I note that in countries as different as India, Israel, Poland, Brazil, and the United States, there is or has been some kind of political clash about the power of judges. For those who want to limit the power of the judges, the claim is that judges have been given too much power, thanks to a pernicious philosophy of judicial activism, to the point that they interfere with democracy. On the other hand, those who want to preserve the power of the judges say things like, the judges are a line of defense against authoritarianism.

Now personally I find it easier to understand those who say that activist judges are interfering with democracy. Some kind of right-wing or populist government gets elected, it has an agenda which judges are able to block thanks to the judicial practice of recent decades, the elected government wants to return judicial practice to a time when judges were less activist – and that is the “authoritarian” threat.

My very limited investigations (browsing Wikipedia and some articles at Tablet Magazine) suggest that what’s happening in Israel fits this pattern. In Israel, the era of judicial activism is associated with the tenure of Aharon Barak on the Supreme Court. What Netanyahu’s government wants to do, is to return the system to what it was up until the 1980s or so – that’s my impression.

Would any actually knowledgeable person care to comment on this interpretation of events?

11. Enlightnened Israeli Prof Says:

Can you name a single jurist or philosopher or scientist or writer who I’d have prior reason to respect, in Israel or anywhere else on the planet, who’s looked into these judicial reforms and thinks that they’re a good idea?

Yes. Although not specifically about the current reform, it is rather well established that Aharon Barak who is the architect of the current Israeli judicial system, is an ultra-activist judge, who basically took (some say “stole”), without any serious debate or clear consent from the public, using a parliamentary manipulation in the 90’s, unsurpassed powers to eliminate and twist virtually any law the supreme court wishes to eliminate or block. These usurpative tendencies have been explained in the criticism written by the conservative-leaning American jurist and legal scholar, Richard Posner. (Citing wikipedia: “Posner is a leading figure in the field of law and economics, and was identified by The Journal of Legal Studies as the most-cited legal scholar of the 20th century. He is widely considered to be one of the most influential legal scholars in the United States”.)

Posner in the New Republic 2007 accuses Barak for acting as “a legal buccaneer,” and describes his approach as “usurpative.” Posner names Barak as no less than an “Enlightened Despot.”

Here is this amazing piece: https://newrepublic.com/article/60919/enlightened-despot

Many other scholars share the same criticism for the Israeli supreme court.
The goal of the current reform is to reverse Barak’s revolution, in order to democratize Israel further.

12. Rahul Says:

I agree with the protest however I dislike how the letter is written. Why can’t it simply be that this is bad judicial policy and we don’t like it. Period.

Why must we connect it to science and diversity and collaborations and all that?!

Let’s assume there was an unjust law which actually furthered the interests of scientists. Would we support it then?

13. Richard Gaylord Says:

“As a lifelong Zionist”. why is a lifelong zionist living in Texas rather than in Israel?

14. Vladimir Says:

> Can you name a single jurist or philosopher or scientist or writer who I’d have prior reason to respect, in Israel or anywhere else on the planet, who’s looked into these judicial reforms and thinks that they’re a good idea?

Robert Aumann appeared before the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee last month, saying he opposes parts of the reform and supports others; in one instance he believes the reform doesn’t go far enough. If that doesn’t give you pause, here are some facts that should:

– The Israeli Judicial Selection Committee already has, and always had, the power to dismiss judges. Currently it requires at least 7 out of 9 votes. After the reform it will require 9 out of 11.

– The Knesset already has the (limited) power to overrule the Supreme Court, written into law during/by Yitzhak Rabin’s second government in 1994 in an attempt to woo one Aryeh Deri. Even more ironically, it was Aharon Barak who suggested this move.

– Like a lot of Israel’s “Basic Laws”, Basic Law: The Judiciary, which among other things defines the role and authority of the Supreme Court, does not require any sort of special majority to change. If Netanyahu was the power-crazed-would-be-dictator and his current coalition were the fanatical followers you make them out to be, they could completely shut down the Supreme Court in a perfectly legal manner regardless of the proposed reform.

15. Ehud Says:

An answer to Rahul #12 and Michael Porter #12. This is way beyond the usual arguments on activist versus conservative Judicial policy. Trying to frame it this way is gaslighting by Netanyahu and his cronies. Prof. Yoav Dotan of the Hebrew University, who has for years been one of the most vociferous opponent of judicial activism in Israel, has now called students to go up on barricades against these, so called judicial reforms. The issue is that these new moves basically aim to turn Israel into an authoritarian state with unchecked power to the governing coalition, including power to perpetuate its rule. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis do not go to the streets over an obscure academic question of different shades of judicial activism.

The reason it was so urgent, of all things, to destroy the judicial system right now is also glaringly obvious and has to do with Netanyahu’s looming jail sentence (there are other serial corruption offenders in the government). Prior to his indictment Netanyahu has always stood firm against such “reforms”. The ultra-right religious factions are riding on the opportunity that Netanyahu has no other option to advance these reforms because the courts have been a major hurdle in implementing a full fledged jewish supremacist state in Israel as well as in the west bank. The next steps in these reforms have also been revealed and include destroying the independent state media and making it easier to fund propaganda channels.

What does all this have to do with Science? In a similar way that it has to do with economy. 300 of Israel’s top economists, including even the head of the central bank, warned about what all the rating agencies also know: these reforms are so extreme that if they pass it will be a clear signal that the state has gone Berzerk. It’ll not be a place to do science.

16. Shaked Koplewitz Says:

@zalman #7: Yeah, the current system is reasonably good – there’s a mixed panel of political and judicial apointees who have to agree on a new judge via supermajority. The proposed new system would change the balance so that a minimal parliamentary majority gets a supermajority on this panel, which effectively means it gets to decide by itself.

Part of the issue is that aside from this, the Israeli system doesn’t really have checks and balances – there’s no constitutional limits, house/senate/president split, or anything like that. the Knesset can push anything via a simple majority (including overriding a judicial ruling! They just have to specifically vote to repeal the basic law the judges were relying on, instead of just ignoring the ruling in the specific case). So the fact that they want to be able to do this isn’t just about balance of power, it’s about wanting not to be bound by consistent laws.

In general I think the US has too many veto points and would support a more parliamentary system with fewer checks and balances. But this law would take Israel way too far in the other direction, since it means the government isn’t even bound to be consistent within its own laws.

17. OhMyGoodness Says:

I suspect the motivation for this letter has less to do with deeply held philosophical commitment to structural checks and balances governance and more to do with the usual shallow partisan politics practiced by the US academic left.

18. Mikko Kiviranta Says:

I wonder if clashes like these are becoming more common, in Israel and elsewhere, because religious and conservative people reproduce much faster than liberal-minded ones? I recall a relevant recent article about Haredi Jews in the Economist: https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2022/08/18/in-israel-birth-rates-are-converging-between-jews-and-muslims

Isn’t such a shift unavoidable in the one-human-one-vote democracy, assuming offspring predominantly inherit the values of their parents? I assume one can be simultaneously religiously minded and a supporter of democracy, but doesn’t Netanyahu’s cabinet indicate that statistically speaking the matter is not necessarily so?

19. Scott Says:

Richard Gaylord #13:

why is a lifelong zionist living in Texas rather than in Israel?

If you must know, Dana and I applied for faculty jobs together in Israel, despite the fact that my Hebrew is poorer than an Israeli 3-year-old’s. We did not get reasonable offers there. We did spend an excellent year on sabbatical at Tel Aviv University, and we go there every year to visit Dana’s family (paused during COVID but about to resume).

It gives me no joy to observe that, if we had sacrificed our job prospects to make Aliyah, we might’ve ultimately found ourselves living not in the liberal democracy we’d bargained for, but in an authoritarian Bibistan.

20. Scott Says:

Vladimir #14: Thank you for the on-point answer! So, among all the well-known scholars who I had prior reason to respect, it seems that there’s exactly one—Robert Aumann—who supports parts of the judicial reform while opposing other parts.

I’m now curious to know which parts he supports; conceivably I’d even support those parts too! The problem, after all, is not with the idea of reforming Israel’s judiciary—something that plausibly is needed, in a system where a patchwork of “Basic Laws” inelegantly substitutes for a constitution—but rather, with doing so for the transparent purpose of entrenching Netanyahu’s power, shielding him from just prosecution, and unleashing the militant settler right.

Or maybe Aumann actually supports the latter? If so, he and I will just have to … AGREE TO DISAGREE. 😀

21. Scott Says:

OhMyGoodness #17:

I suspect the motivation for this letter has less to do with deeply held philosophical commitment to structural checks and balances governance and more to do with the usual shallow partisan politics practiced by the US academic left.

On the contrary, looking at the list of signatories, I’m struck to see scientists who’d normally be on opposite sides of academic controversies, all together. This issue has united the forces of sanity in the same way the war in Ukraine did … and for the same reason, that this isn’t about “woke versus anti-woke” but about liberal democracy versus its opposite.

22. Scott Says:

Miklo Kiviranta #18: Yes, of course that’s one of the structural factors behind this. Yet even today, if the “judicial reform” were put to a direct vote of the Israeli public, all indications are that it would lose in a landslide. The Netanyahu coalition did not campaign on this, but sprung it on everyone after it won.

23. OhMyGoodness Says:

Scott #21

Okay and thanks Dr Aaronson. I was considering the case in the US if after multiple decisions by the Supreme Court that were unpopular with Progressives and a serious effort was mounted to pack the Court with Progressives judges, if these same people would then pursue similar opposition to court packing. I doubted that they would but it was pure speculation. I know that I have insufficient knowledge of Israeli politics to develop any reasonable conclusion about judicial activism versus the Knesset so considered a case in the US.

24. MaxM Says:

This seems to me as an inevitable. I don’t see how liberal democracy can be a nation-state. Multiethnic liberal democracy must be a citizen-state.

Liberal Zionists seem to hold the viewpoint that you can mix liberal democracy and nation state. I don’t see how that is possible in multicultural and multi-ethnic country. Japan can do it by staying homogeneous and xenophobic, not allowing others in. Israel can’t do it.
You have to prefer people based on their ethnicity to maintain the nation-state and that kind of injustice will eventually corrupt he heart of the nation.

(I add definitions for terms, because people use them differently)

nation: collective identity based on shared features such as language, history, ethnicity, culture.

nationalism: political principle that holds that the nation and state should be congruent. Zionism is Jewish nationalism. In the US there is white-nationalism and Christian nationalism.

nation-state: Nation and state are congruent. One nation, one state ideal. Alternatively, one preferred nation. Israel is nation-state in this meaning. Other groups can exist as individual citizens, but Jews are the nation over others.

citizen-state: State where all rights are based on citizenship. Liberal democracies USA, UK, Germany, Canada, etc. are all citizen-states.

25. peak.singularity Says:

@ Enlightnened Israeli Prof #11

This is a curious use of “Enlightened Despot” : in my understanding this usually applies to people that abused their power and/or usurped more power that they were given, but at the time of the speaker, are considered to have had an overall positive effect on the (democratic liberal) polity, for instance by getting it out of a crisis, and/or by reforming it. But there’s not much positive that Richard A. Posner says about Aharon Barak…

@ MaxM #24

This reminds me of an article from last summer describing events in Israel and talking about Yoram Hazony… I found it curious how his values and mine seemed to be pretty much opposite… except in our shared definition of nationalism and imperialism !?

My take : liberal democracy can *only* be a nation-state and cannot be (radically) multiethnic because in a (radically) multiethnic state, one ethnicity will eventually end up «more equal than others», and then «You have to prefer people based on their ethnicity to maintain the nation-state and that kind of injustice will eventually corrupt [t]he heart of the nation.» and then you end up not with a nation-state but with an empire with a dominant nation and subject ethnicities, the example of the USSR comes to mind.

The (radically) bit is important here, because, while ethnicities are fractal, they are also more or less compatible with each other. Going directly to the worst incompatibilities here, political Islam is obviously incompatible with liberal (and especially secular) democracy… and it’s already causing issues in Europe where the tensions are *much* lower than in Israel.

You seem to have had decided in advance that nationalism was bad ? AFAIK, what you call «citizen-state» is typically called «civic nationalism», as opposed to «”ethnic” nationalism» with quotes around “ethnic” because in the usual examples (from 19th and 20th century, so when they were still using “race” as a valid concept), those were all “racial” rather than ethnic nationalisms.)

This conception of nation-states in an inter-national framework is a direct transposition of the human right to self-determination to the level of ethnicities/nations. (A nation being an ethnicity becoming self-aware, which typically happens automatically with access to a mass media like print.)

Now, the bad news here, and where I probably agree with you again, is that I cannot see how to avoid the imperialist tendency in the case of Israel/Palestine
(or also for the USA/Native Americans… except maybe for the closer in culture & with less claims on ancestral lands Latinos ? … but/and it’s not like the USA was ever a nation anyway ??)
Sorry, and good luck for everyone involved…

26. Little Wormhole Says:

Scott,

Off-topic, but I’ve noticed considerably fewer deranged incel trolls in the comment section here for the past few posts. Whatever you’re doing seems to be working in driving them away, so keep it up.

27. Scott Says:

Little Wormhole #26: What I’m doing is just blocking them! Whatever welcome they ever had here, they squandered it to a farcical degree, viciously attacking me for refusing to turn my blog over entirely to their issues. Even back in my most depressed periods, I can’t imagine doing anything similar to anyone. My patience is not infinite.

28. Israeli Non-Scientist Says:

The idea that the Jewish scientists of today are inadequate and have to fill in the shoes of the greats of the past is not only a false statement but also an insulting one. It implies that the achievements and contributions of contemporary Jewish scientists are not significant and that they are inferior to their predecessors. This is simply not true. Science is a field that constantly evolves and progresses, and we should acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of today’s Jewish scientists instead of belittling them.

Moreover, the idea that Jewish scientists have a special moral responsibility towards Israel and that non-scientists should not be included in this statement is divisive and exclusionary. It suggests that the opinions of non-Jewish people and non-scientists do not matter or are less important than those of Jewish scientists. This is not only offensive but also a dangerous notion that can lead to the marginalization of certain groups of people.

I strongly oppose this statement, and I believe that we should value and celebrate the achievements of all scientists, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or background. We should also promote inclusivity and respect the opinions of everyone, regardless of their profession or identity. Only then can we move forward as a society and achieve meaningful progress.

29. Scott Says:

“Israeli Non-Scientist” #28: Did ChatGPT write that comment? 🙂

30. Tyler Says:

Scott,

A little off-topic, but I’m curious if you’ll be attending the eras tour when it comes to texas in a couple months.

Best,

Tyler

31. UTAustin Anon Says:

Scott,

Thought you should know that some students here have been mocking and judging you on Reddit over the comment 171 stuff:

https://www.reddit.com/r/UTAustin/comments/xebbpy/nerd_shaming_sexuality_and_dr_scott_aaronson/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf

32. Scott Says:

UTAustin Anon #31: If your goal in sharing that was to make me feel bad, the effect was the opposite. What I see in that thread is a bunch of UT students discussing my 8-year-old comment mostly thoughtfully and sympathetically—and the few who attack getting downvoted.

More broadly, my fear eight years ago was not that people would know the truth of what I endured in order to have a “normal” dating life (and later get married and have kids), but rather that it was the only thing they’d know about me—that with one comment, I’d effectively erased the rest of my life and career. That fear has completely lost its power over time. People rarely even bring it up anymore, but I’m not afraid or ashamed if they do.

33. Scott Says:

Incidentally, since the post discussed Theodor Herzl’s 1902 novel Altneuland, maybe I should add that the plot of Altneuland involves a European Jewish bachelor—a likely insert for the young Herzl himself—who’s bitter and depressed and sees no point to life, largely because the young Jewish women in his social circle aren’t interested in him. Today many would call him an “incel.”

Eventually our hero joins a rich Gentile businessman, who’s also heartsick and tired of normie society, on a deserted island—though not before the hero donates some money to a starving Jewish family with a little boy who pulls his heartstrings, since if nothing matters anymore then why not?

After 20 years cut off from civilization, the hero and his Gentile friend leave the island, and they discover that the little boy whose life the hero saved is now a leader of the Jews rebuilding their ancient homeland in Israel. And that the quest to build this shining new society, this liberal democracy and science and engineering powerhouse where Jews (and allied Gentiles) can go to be free from European discrimination, gives life meaning after all. And also, the women who snubbed the hero as a young man now also live in Israel, but now they’re boring, ugly old matrons and he feels like he dodged a bullet with them.

I’m not making this up. One of the founding documents of Zionism, and much of it reads like my comment 171. And the ridiculous-seeming plot of Altneuland actually more-or-less became reality, with Herzl channeling his depression into the project that saved a million Jews from the Holocaust and that’s still insurance against a second Holocaust—if it can be protected both from external enemies and from itself.

34. Michel Says:

Many in Europe are indeed worried about the rising right-wing and theocratic tendencies in Israel. Then, if the laws are going to be changed in this way, what is going to be the difference between Israel and Iran or Russia? If you write the name of Allah (a.o Iran), God(a.o. Hungary or Russia), or G’d above your own deeds, it automatically says that humanity is second, not first. Or is it simply a case of ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ being equivalent to ‘I hate myself, so I can hate my neighbour’?

35. Manor Says:

Scott #33: “… the project that saved a million Jews from the Holocaust”

How exactly?
According to
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-and-non-jewish-population-of-israel-palestine-1517-present
there were 450K jews in Palestine in 1939.

36. Scott Says:

Manor #35: Well, I include a few hundred thousand more refugees and survivors, who made it to Israel either during or soon after the war despite British restrictions and who had no other place to go. Even then, yes, the total is somewhat under a million.

37. Balthazar Says:

Seconding Tyler #30. My thesis advisor and I will both be there.

38. Ilio Says:

Scott #33,

>the project that saved a million Jews from the Holocaust and that’s still insurance against a second Holocaust—if it can be protected both from external enemies and from itself.

Maybe it’s time to add another layer of backup plans, in case first project can’t be protected from either itself or external enemies. I’m pretty sure most of your friends and loved ones would feel welcome and safe here in Canada. 🙂

39. Half Jewish Guy Says:

Do you really believe that a “second holocaust” is even a theoretical possibility at this point? Can you outline for me any plausible chain of events that would result in a second genocide of Jews in the US or Europe? It sounds like a batshit insane victim fantasy to me.

40. Jean Passepartout Says:

The Israeli Court declares for itself many more powers than the US Supreme Court has. Barak’s “reforms” and scope expansion have produced an untenable arrangment. The Isralei Court is of now favored by US academics because the Israeli Court is pretty left wing, as is the academic system that produces the Israeli justices.

I would agree that some of the proposed reforms are bad, but the Israeli Court as it currently imagines itself is an outlier in Western democracies.

41. Scott Says:

Half Jewish Guy #39: No, I don’t expect a second Holocaust—mostly just because the European Jews who would otherwise have been its likeliest victims were so efficiently wiped out in the first one. But:

(1) Since its founding, Israel absorbed a million Soviet Jews who often faced terrible discrimination there, and another million Jews who were effectively expelled from Arab countries (granted, they were expelled “because” of Israel’s founding—but the very fact that they could be, shows how precarious their situation was).

(2) Here in the US, believers in insane antisemitic conspiracy theories just dictated terms to the Speaker of the House, making clear that he continues to serve only at their pleasure.

(3) If you’d asked someone in 1930 to spell out a plausible chain of events that could’ve led to the first Holocaust, any answer they gave would’ve sounded equally batshit insane.

(4) And yet the Holocaust was hardly the first mass-murder of Jews—merely the most efficient and successful one. There’s now 3000 years’ worth of data saying to expect a mass-murder of Jews at least once every few centuries or so. And to the extent I’ve been right in life, a huge part of it has simply been updating on what actually happens over and over, even if it’s “batshit insane” that it should happen (the success of deep learning is another good example).

42. Millenium dawn Says:

Balthazar—I didn’t realize this was really a thing for CS academics. I’m going and I’m in industry, but working on the ML side. I thought this was mostly an industry thing.

43. JimV Says:

Just to comment that of course holocausts are not unique to the Jewish people, although theirs is the most famous. Various Greek island peoples, African slaves, Native Americans, Russian serfs, Armenians, Uighurs, Kurds, what’s going on in Ukraine, …, the Neandertals. History is full of holocausts. There is at least one I can think of in the Old Testament. They all seemed like good ideas to some people at the time.

Evolution as I see it has two main strategies: competition and cooperation. Cooperation has difficulty maintaining a stable equilibrium though.

I for one will welcome our able and dispassionate AI overlords. I think they are our best chance, if Dr. Aaronson can make sure they have a sense of justice.

44. Postdoc Says:

Millenium,

Are you serious? Everybody’s going to eras.

45. OhMyGoodness Says:

Scott #33

I will read Altneuland next-thanks for the reference. I hope it has an optimistic ending. 🙂

46. Scott Says:

Tyler #30: I mean, OBVIOUSLY I logged in the second it was possible to get tickets to see Tay-Tay live — I was willing to spend my kids’ entire college savings for front-row seats — but stupid Ticketmaster locked me out!!! I’ve been devastated about it ever since.

47. Microshit Says:

Scott 46 — I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic/ironic here or not, but there are still plenty of tickets available for far less than the cost of your kids’ college tuition:

https://www.stubhub.com/taylor-swift-tickets/performer/136034/

And if you are being sarcastic—please know that so many of us, especially in the CS community, love Taylor and her music, and we are tired of the tropes (Taylor Swift is cringey, just for teenage girls, etc etc). If you don’t appreciate her artistry, that’s fine, but please keep that to yourself.

48. KARMA IS A CAT Says:

I really think you should post about the Taylor Swift thing.

It’s rare for public figures of this stature to get involved deeply in CS / tech debates and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on it.

We also want to know what your favorite album is! Is it 1989????

49. Scott Says:

I don’t actually think Taylor Swift is untalented at all. The fact that something has billions of fans around the world doesn’t imply that it’s bad, as is shown by the examples of pizza and chocolate. (But no, I wouldn’t spend my kids’ college savings on either front-row Taylor Swift tickets or the world’s best pizza.)

My favorite of her songs is “Shake It Off.” No doubt I’d be a much better person if I could internalize that song’s message.

Having said that, it’s obvious that people are trolling me for lulz, just like with the Disney cruise ship thing this past summer. So all further Swift-related comments will be ruthlessly left in moderation.

50. Andrew Says:

I’m saddened to see scientists abusing their credentials and fame of being public intellectuals to push their agenda in unrelated fields of knowledge and politics. Recently Peter Beinart published a good article at The New York Times that espouses the sentiment opposite to the one expressed in this article. I hope people won’t bandwagon behind big names just because Netanyahu is bad and therefore everyone who opposes him is good, especially if they have a popular blog.

51. Scott Says:

Andrew #50: How on earth is it an “abuse” for Jewish scientists to sign a statement denouncing a policy of the current Israeli government? Is it also an abuse when the message is one that you agree with? (And don’t worry: as I said, probably no one will listen to us anyway 🙂 )

More to the point, wouldn’t the opposite of the sentiment we expressed, be that judicial reform in Israel is a great idea?

Peter Beinart’s position is that he doesn’t care whether the judicial reform passes or doesn’t pass, because the deeper issue (for him) is that the State of Israel shouldn’t exist at all. Say whatever you want about that (I’ll resist doing so), it’s manifestly irrelevant to the question at issue right now.

52. Christopher David King Says:

Theoretically, if the current government ignores the protest, what’s the solution? I guess you all have to move somewhere else and create a new Israel 🤔?

I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just thinking that realistically that if they do this before the next election (and therefore you can’t influence it), you need some of backup.

53. Andy Weinstein Says:

1. I grew up in the USA and have lived in Israel for over 30 years. I am right-wing (but not by the standards of the current coalition). I am religious.
2. I oppose the current proposals for judicial reform – one from Levine, one from Rothman. They go too far.
3. I support judicial reform in general. Even a lot of reform. As other commenters have mentioned, what Aharon Barak did starting in the 90’s was extreme, but I also blame the Knesset for not doing anything about it – however – it is important to note that Netanyahu himself stopped most efforts at judicial reform in all his previous governments (there was a very good change in the way judges are selected a few years ago). The cynics might say he was making sure that the judicial system had good reasons to not go after him, and that when they did go after him, he changed his position. But it might also be that this is something he can give his coalition partners so that he won’t have to give as much in other areas.
4. As much as I am not enamoured of Netanyahu, he did a lot of good things for the country (including in the technology sector), and if you look at how the justice system went after him (including intimidating aides into being state’s witnesses), and the content of the charges, it’s easy to understand how his supporters feel like he was the victim of a sort of attempted “legal” coup (it’s not over – the trial is still going on). That being said, the people in charge who investigated him were appointed by him. So everybody feels “justified” in their attitudes towards the trial.
5. There are different additional reasons that the other supporters of the coalition are also gung-ho about limiting the powers of the court, because of the feeling that their particular sub-group is both not represented and not respected by the court. I am sympathetic to some of those reasons.
6. I do believe that most Israelis would either enthusiastically support or grudgingly live with a toned-down version of the current reform. For now, the opponents are making unreasonable demands on the coalition to stop the process, while the coalition people have made it clear that they are willing to talk with the opponents – but in the context of the regular legislative process. I think the opponents should take them up on this.
7. Most, if not all, of the outside-of-Israel involvement in this is, in my estimate, only encouraging the opponents to be more stubborn and the coalition *also* to be more stubborn in response.
8. Here’s an article in English by an Israeli CS professor who is also the head of one of the leading conservative think-tanks in Israel, and who supports reform but – if you read it, I think you can see that he doesn’t quite support the current proposals as they stand. But he doesn’t frame his reservations as “opposition to the reform”. https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/this-reform-will-end-limitless-power-for-unelected-elites/
9. All that being said, I understand your concerns. I am also concerned, and go to demonstrations. But the sign that I haven’t yet made says “80%”. When I talk to opponents, I try to get them to understand the supporters, and when I talk to supporters, I try to get them to understand the opponents. Too easy and very unhelpful to just see this as “us” and “them”.
10. The Altneuland reference is extremely interesting, and while relevant, it gets the historical order wrong – the country was dominated by the secular for a long time, but that dominance has been on the wane for while. I personally hope for a healthy synthesis of the best parts that everybody has to contribute.

54. fred Says:

In hindsight, it looks like things could have been easier for everyone if a modern Jewish homeland had been created in a different spot than the ancient historical location

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposals_for_a_Jewish_state

(but things are what they are and it’s way too late now)

55. Scott Says:

Christopher David King #52: In practice, the “new Israel providing safety and cultural continuation for secular Jews,” to whatever extent there is or will ever be one, probably just consists of tiny bits and pieces of the US, Canada, and other Western democracies. Already something like a million Israelis live outside of Israel. I unfortunately expect that number to increase, if Israel descends into an authoritarian Bibistan that no longer welcomes secular liberals.

56. Scott Says:

fred #54: Right, Herzl was originally looking at Argentina or Uganda, though the plans for those fell through. With hindsight, the right answer was anything whatsoever that could’ve been up and running before the Holocaust.

57. Maddox Says:

At risk of being “ruthlessly left in moderation” for my Swift-related comment…

Have no idea where Taylor Swift fits into CS or where this meme came from. But I will say, many of Taylor’s songs express themes and feelings that have surfaced on this blog many times—unrequited love, loneliness, feeling awkward as a teenager trying to find romance, rejection, and being judged by society and attacked by trolls / cancelled. “You belong with me” has been described in some circles as an incel/femcel anthem. If you wanted to put a good public face on the loveshy movement, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick a couple of Taylor’s songs to represent the movement. I actually have a feeling that Scott and Taylor would have a lot in common

58. Yair Says:

I don’t usually try to comment here, mostly out of inadequacy to contribute much to the discussion, but I’m much better informed on this subject.

Perhaps a short analogy would explain to the American reader what we’re talking about: Imagine if the American SCOTUS had the power to ban all abortion, void the law allowing abortions, void _the constitutional amendment_ permitting abortions (yes, Bagatz has arrogated itself the power to void the constitution), and had a veto right and control on future appointees so that their decisions could never be changed. By the way, the Biden administration was never represented in the original court session: the Attorney General decided that they oppose abortions too (the Israeli court has a special doctrine where the government is not allowed to issue a different legal position than the AG unless the AG approves it, also appointments are for 5 years and this AG is from the previous admin).

What we had here is an absurd power grab by people who keep losing elections and want to rule via fiat, and simply put the Israeli Right has had enough. If Bibi tries to stand in the way, well, לא אלמן ישראל, there are other people who could lead.

There was previous attempts at a much more moderate reform, all of which were denied – the part in Prof. Dotan’s latest interview that reminded that all the previous Justice Ministers who announced reforms suddenly got investigated is strangely forgotten. The question these last few years whether to do the reform very very incrementally (like Bennet and Shaked tried to do) or in a spurt (like Levin and Rothman is trying now).

In fairness, I do understand some of the opposition – I’d rather have a somewhat different arrangement than the coalition is trying to create. But in order to get there, we need to deal with the status quo first, and we need to start with a big proposal so it could be negotiated down.

59. manorba Says:

fred #54 Says:
“In hindsight, it looks like things could have been easier for everyone if a modern Jewish homeland had been created in a different spot than the ancient historical location”
Sardinia would have been a perfect location 😉
That’s a thought i had so many times. Granted, i keep out of any discussion on israel and the middle east because the only thing i can think about it is that it’s a huge garbled mess with no solution in sight, but was there any chance of creating israel somewhere else? and what about the fact that everybody keeps talking about a “jewish state” while there’s non jewish people there? are they 2nd-rate citizens or even citizens at all? I don’t know, these things scare me, I see the concept of identity as a double edged sword. And the one you don’t identify with?

60. fred Says:

@manorba

“what about the fact that everybody keeps talking about a “jewish state” while there’s non jewish people there? ”

I was mainly wondering about the US because of the supposed “freedom of religion” here.
For example the Mormons founded Salt Lake City (interestingly, it seems that Mormons and Jews have the same total population, about 16 millions)… but then I read that happened because they were facing persecution when living further east in the US!.. so it ain’t all that simple.
But still, the US is really vast and many states have a ton of empty space (Arizona, Oregon, etc).
Of course, they wouldn’t have their own state this way, they would have been part of the US…

61. manorba Says:

fred #60 Says:
“I was mainly wondering about the US because of the supposed “freedom of religion” here.”

I am italian! while the equal footing of all religions is sanctioned by the 3rd art. of our constitution, i know i’ve been living in a downright catholic state for most of my life. Luckily things have changed a lot in the last decades, but we still have an apparently devout prime minister… and just to bring a tiny sample: there’s a long running word-quiz show on the first channel of the italian public television, and one of the categories is religion: all questions are catholic related.

62. manorba Says:

By the way, always forgot to say this:

The reform you’re against is Berlusconi’s wet dream, ie political control over the judiciary system. And defending it would make Montesquieu and Alexis de Tocqueville roll in their tombs. If you’re pro democracy the separation of powers is a pillar you can’t do without and religion is a personal matter and has nothing to do with a state or a government.

No long and winding post, rationalist style, is gon take away the fact that if you think that any government should have control over justice you’re authoritarian and not democratic.

63. Moshe Says:

While I have great respect for Scott’s opinions and knowledge on scientific topics, I disagree with his stance on this particular matter. The current reform is not solely supported by one political side, as it has garnered widespread support across the political spectrum. It’s important to note that even the opposition had previously suggested the same reform, and are now opposing it only because they didn’t propose it first. (You can find more information on this matter by following the link https://t.me/yinonews/7990 ) While it’s reasonable to oppose a specific politician like Bibi, it’s important to evaluate the merits of each issue on its own, rather than simply dismissing it based on political affiliations.

I concur with Yair’s comment #58. As an Israeli scientist, I’m pleased with the current reform and believe that the left’s unfounded fears and tactics of intimidation are excessive and unnecessary. Over the last 20 years, the situation has become absurd, with one side continuously losing in the elections while continue to force their opinions and abuse the law to push their narrow agenda. This kind of behavior goes against the principles of democracy and is unacceptable. Since none of those people as been elected to do so.

64. Craig Says:

I think the ultimate plan is to put in a Sanhedrin to replace the Supreme Court.

65. Andy Weinstein Says:

#63 Moshe says “The current reform is not solely supported by one political side, as it has garnered widespread support across the political spectrum.”

Hold on there. What is true is that there is widespread support (i.e. including some of the opposition) for some degree of reform. I very strongly disagree that there is widespread support for the current reforms being proposed, as they are, by Levine or by Rothman. That includes polls showing reservations about it *among people who voted for the parties in the coalition*, and public statements by a large group of mayors, including from settlements, that there should be some kind of discussion and compromise. The fact that Lapid made some general statements sympathetic to reform in the past does not indicate support for the current proposed reform. It’s encouraging to me that he made those statements, but it’s quite misleading to translate them into support for the particular legislation now on the table.

#58 Yair says “But in order to get there, we need to deal with the status quo first, and we need to start with a big proposal so it could be negotiated down.”
I really, really hope that indeed the current proposals are tactical. I really, really hope that the opposition politicians back down from their demand for a freeze and start talking to the coalition people, in whatever forum.

66. Jr Says:

I do know that Richard Posner, not someone who was naive to the political side of judging in the USA, regarded the Israeli supreme court as more politicised than even say the Warren court and also basing its claim to power on a much more slender textual basis. Some form of reform seems eminently sensible.

67. Vladimir Says:

Scott #20:

Straight from the horse’s mouth:

https://www.ynet.co.il/news/article/b19j8sz12

(Google Translate does a reasonably good job here)

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