Likud firmly backs new proposal to assert control over Judicial Selection Committee

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party voted during a Knesset faction meeting on Monday to approve a new proposal aimed at asserting political control over the Judicial Selection Committee appointed by judges, as part of a push the ongoing coalition government to radically reform the judiciary and severely restrict the powers of the High Court of Justice.

The vote came less than a day after members of the coalition government agreed on a new outline to change the way judges are selected, based on a proposal presented by MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and a member of the Far Ireland Committee. . right party Religious Zionism. They promised to pass the bill into law before the Knesset breaks for the Passover recess early next month while delaying many other proposed bills to allow for negotiations with the opposition.

Opposition leaders, however, rejected the possibility of any such talks if the judicial selection law were to pass, and claimed it would be the beginning of the end for Israeli democracy.

Likud voted 34-4 to support the bill, which the party said would “return balance to the Judicial Selection Committee” and end “the democratic state in which the judges appointed themselves.” In fact, representatives from both the coalition government and the judiciary have veto power over appointments to the High Court in the current selection committee.

The updated proposal will be brought before the Rothman committee on Tuesday so that it is ready for the second and third (final) reading in the plenary session.

The amended proposal would give a governing coalition full control over the first two appointments to the Supreme Court that would open during its tenure but require the support of one opposition member for the third appointment, and the support of both an opposition member and a judicial representative. for a quarter. The proposal would also change the appointment process for the presidency of the Supreme Court, to allow the coalition government to appoint the chief justice, which would strengthen its control over the appointment of judges to the High Court and potentially give it full control over appointments to higher courts. low.

The changes, presented as “softening” amid fierce opposition and public criticism, appear to be intended to address widespread concerns that the bill as originally drafted – and passed in first Knesset reading – after giving the coalition carte blanche to pack the courts with him. understandable ideologies.

But opposition parties and national protest organizers quickly rejected the proposal, saying it was an attempt to mislead the public to soften the idea of ​​the judicial reform plan, while at the same time politicizing the court and causing great harm. for Israel’s democratic system.

And the attorney general warned that the reform proposal failed to address concerns that the coalition’s legislation “will politicize the justice system and seriously damage its independence and public trust in it.”

A protester gathers during a rally against the government’s controversial judicial reform bill in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2023. (Jalaa Marey / AFP)

Some critics have noted that in this updated format, the coalition will soon have enough court members in place to effectively neutralize judicial review — once the ruling bloc enacts legislation requiring near-unanimous court control to repeal Knesset laws, as he plans to do. .

The Likud party declared on Monday that “this system in which public representatives elect judges is accepted in almost every democracy in the world. There is no basis for the claim that the end of democracy is the end of the system by which judges appoint themselves.”

Even as Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who presided over the dramatic judicial overhaul, claimed “unanimous” support at the Likud faction meeting, MKs Danny Danon, David Amsalem, Moshe Saada and Moshe Pasal voted in against the new outline. All of them argued that the new proposal did not go far enough.

Danon said he supported the “amendment” and was in favor of dialogue with the opposition for a compromise. “But compromise does not mean capitulation,” he tweeted on Monday. “If this arrangement were to lead to broad agreements, it would be wise to consider some concessions. For now, we are left with it [the option of] great capitalization and no agreements,” he wrote.

“There is no point in an outline that neither side agrees with,” he told Channel 12.

In his tweets, Danon also criticized the coalition’s behavior in recent weeks, jabbing at coalition partners who draft an outline “in the dead of night,” a likely reference to Rothman’s changes to the judicial appointments bill late Sunday.

But according to Channel 12, Danon also said that the number of non-coalition appointments on the committee should be increased.

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 8, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Likud members were banned from bringing in their mobile phones and other communication devices at the meeting, where a stormy debate took place and even some who voted to approve the proposal drew harsh criticism, Channel 12 reported.

MK David Bitan, who has repeatedly proposed freeing up the judicial reform to allow talks, said he would vote in favor of the outline, but said, according to Channel 12, “this is the last time we will not go in consult us; we became administrators of Rothman and [Religious Zionism leader Bezalel] Smootrich.”

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with other Likud MKs including Nir Barkat (back to camera) and Avi Dichter (right) in the Knesset plenary session on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Avi Dichter, former director of Shin Bet, told Netanyahu that he was against giving the coalition control over the three branches of government, although the agriculture minister still voted in favor of the new outline.

A coalition that chooses to “distort the head of executive, legislative and judicial authority,” Channel 12 quoted Dichter as saying.

Netanyahu replied, “This is the essence of democracy.”

“That’s not the case,” Dichter said, suggesting that the push for judicial reform be delayed until after Israel’s upcoming 75th Independence Day. “This is the hour of unity. The holidays are upon us.”

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