Basic Laws of Israel

Basic Laws of Israel

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The Basic Laws of Israel (Hebrew: חוקי היסוד‎, ḥŭḳḳēi ha-yyǝsōd) are a key component of Israel's constitutional law. These laws deal with the formation and role of the principal state's institutions, and the relations between the state's authorities. Some of them also protect civil rights. While these laws were originally meant to be draft chapters of a future Israeli constitution, they are already used on a daily basis by the courts as a formal constitution. Israel currently functions according to an uncodified constitution consisting of both material constitutional law, based upon cases and precedents, and the provisions of these formal statutes. As of today, the Basic Laws do not cover all constitutional issues, and there is no deadline set to the completion of the process of merging them into one comprehensive constitution. There is no clear rule determining the precedence of Basic Rules over regular legislation, and in many cases this issue is left to the interpretation of the judicial system.



The State of Israel was supposed to adopt a formal written constitution a few months after its declaration of independence on 14 May 1948. The declaration itself states that a constitution should be formulated and adopted no later than 1 October 1948. Adoption of a democratic constitution was also a demand of the General Assembly Resolution 181, which proposed the establishment of a "Jewish state". The State of Israel failed to adopt a formal constitution. While the deadline stated in the declaration of independence proved unrealistic in light of the war which went on between the new state and its neighboring countries, general elections were arranged on 25 January 1949, in order to elect the Constituent Assembly which would approve the new state's constitution. The Constituent Assembly convened on February 1949. It held several discussions about the constitution which soon reached a dead end.

Several arguments were proposed against the adoption of a formal constitution. The Religious Jews at the time opposed the idea of their nation having a document which the government would regard as nominally "higher" in authority than religious texts such as the Tanakh, Talmud, and Shulkhan Arukh. Therefore, after only four meetings, the Constituent Assembly adopted on 16 February 1949 the Transition Law, by means of which it became the "First Knesset"[1]. The Knesset is, therefore, a Sovereign Parliament, like the Parliament of the United Kingdom, that is not bound by a formal Constitution. Because the Constituent Assembly did not prepare a Constitution for Israel, the Knesset is the heir of the Assembly for the purpose of fulfilling this function[2].

The Harari Decision

In 1950, the first Knesset came to what was called the Harari Decision. Rather than draft a full constitution immediately, they would postpone the work, charging the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee with drafting the document piecemeal. Each chapter would be called a Basic Law, and when all had been written they would be compiled into a complete constitution.

In 1998, Aharon Barak, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel declared a "constitutional revolution" and attached constitutional ascendancy to the Basic Laws of Israel.[3] The basic laws are various pieces of legislation from the Knesset that outline the nation's political structure.

Between 1958 and 1988 the Knesset passed nine Basic Laws, all of which pertained to the institutions of state. In 1992, it passed the first two Basic Laws which related to rights and basis of the Supreme Court's recently declared powers of judicial review. These are Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation. These were passed by votes of 32–21 and 23–0, respectively.

List of the Basic Laws of Israel

Year passed Basic Law Description
1958 The Knesset States legislative functions of the house of representatives of the state.
1960 Israel Lands Ensures state lands remain national property.
1964 The President of the State Deals with status, election, qualifications, powers, and procedures of work of the President of the State.
1968 The Government (Replaced by the 1992 law and then restored, with amendments, by the 2001 law)
1975 The State Economy Regulates payments made by and to the State. Authority to mint currency.
1976 The Military Upholds constitutional and legal basis for the operation of the Israel Defense Forces. Subordinates military forces to the government, deals with enlistment, and states that no extra-legal armed force outside the Israel Defense Forces may be set up or maintained.
1980 Jerusalem Law Establishes the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; secures the integrity and unity of Jerusalem; deals with holy places; secures rights of members of all religions; grants special preference with regards to development.
1984 The Judiciary Deals with authority, institutions, principle of independence, openness, appointment, qualifications, and powers of judiciary.
1988 The State Comptroller Deals with the powers, tasks, and duties of supervisor of government bodies, ministries, institutions, authorities, agencies, persons, and bodies operating on behalf of the state.
1992 Human Dignity and Liberty Declares basic human rights in Israel are based on the recognition of the value of man, the sanctity of his life and the fact that he is free. Defines human freedom as right to leave and enter the country, privacy (including speech, writings, and notes), intimacy, and protection from unlawful searches of one's person or property. This law includes instruction regarding its own permanence and protection from changes by means of emergency regulations.
1992 The Government Provides for direct election of Prime Minister at time of Knesset elections. Deals with principles of service of Prime Minister, formation and function of government, qualifications for ministers. (Replaced by the 2001 law)
1992 Freedom of Occupation The law lays down the right of "every citizen or inhabitant to engage in any occupation, profession or trade" unless "a law which corresponds with the values of the State of Israel, and which was designed for a worthy end" determines otherwise. (Replaced by the 1994 law)
1994 Freedom of Occupation Guarantees every Israel national or resident's "right to engage in any occupation, profession or trade". Any violation of this right shall be "by a law befitting the values of the State of Israel, enacted for a proper purpose, and to an extent no greater than is required."
2001 The Government Overturns the 1992 law, and restores the 1968 system with some amendments.

See also


  • Cohen, Asher and Bernard Susser. Israel and the Politics of Jewish Identity: The Secular-Religious Impasse. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
  • Jacobsohn, Gary J. Apple of Gold: Constitutionalism in Israel and the United States. Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • Mazie, Steven V. Israel's Higher Law: Religion and Liberal Democracy in the Jewish State. Lexington Books, 2006.
  • The Existing Basic Laws: Full Texts (English), the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) website, official translations - NOTE: The 1968 Basic Law: the Government translation is missing provisions, probably amendments added later on. As opposed to the 1968 and 2001 basic Law: the Government translations, the 1992 Basic Law: the Government uses the term "Acting PM" to refer to an "Interim Prime Minister" as well. The 2001 Law, which is in effect, present all provision in the translation, however, there are some lines missing. It is recommended to use the Hebrew laws official publications in the Knesset website [1].

External links

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