PM freezes contentious Bar Association Bill

Netanyahu tells justice minister to stop progress of bill; MKs spar over clause that would cancel Judicial Selection Committee elections.

January 4, 2012 23:08
3 minute read.
The Knesset adjourning for its spring break.

Knesset session 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening order Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to freeze the “Bar Association Bill,” after earlier pushing for a vote which Kadima succeeded in delaying.

Netanyahu already attempted to ensure that the second and third (final) readings of the legislation would take place on Monday.

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Likud ministers rebel against ‘Bar Association Bill’
Contentious vote delayed despite PM intervention

Before the prime minister instructed to freeze the bill, its status changed from postponed to on-time to postponed yet again on Wednesday afternoon.

First, MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) announced that he plans to take advantage of a little-used article in Knesset regulations that allows a bill to be brought back to a committee for discussion, after it is already submitted for its second and third (final) readings in the plenum.

On Monday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved a change to the Bar Association Bill that would effectively cancel the results of the bar’s recent election of representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee, leading to an uproar among Likud ministers.

The committee was meant to vote on Shama-Hacohen’s proposed postponement on Wednesday afternoon, but the meeting was canceled within an hour of its announcement.

Sources said that the prime minister asked that the vote be left as planned, possibly because the changes to the bill were made in order to ensure Shas’s support for the measure.

After the meeting was canceled, MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) announced that he would attempt to call it again, which he can do by getting one third of the committee members to sign a request. He successfully gathered the requisite amount of signatures – including Shama-Hacohen’s – and a constitution committee meeting on the bill will likely be called for next week.

Soon after, Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) rushed to Netanyahu’s office in the Knesset, presumably to discuss the developments related to the “Bar Association Bill.” Plesner’s move means that the legislation will not be brought to a vote on Monday, because its second and third readings cannot take place until the bill is approved, once again, by the committee.

Shama-Hacohen said that he had voted for the amended bill on Monday, because he trusted the government’s judgment.

However, because Neeman has not voiced an opinion on the bill after changes were made, and other ministers are disputing the legislation, Shama-Hacohen decided to take action and delay the vote, and supported Plesner’s bid.

“Usually, stopping and thinking is a good idea, and this time, I think it’s necessary,” Shama-Hacohen said.

“We cannot remain indifferent to the voices within [the coalition], which is why I worked to stop the bill, and I am glad that the move was successful.”

On Monday, Likud ministers got into a screaming match with Elkin and MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who cosponsored the bill with Israel Beiteinu faction chairman Robert Ilatov (Israel Beiteinu) on Monday.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor (Likud), Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat (Likud) and others said that the legislation is now totally different from the original text that had been approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which regulates the Bar Association’s Judicial Selection Committee members.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he would discuss the matter with Neeman, but the latter has yet to voice his opinion.

In fact, when MK Dov Henin (Hadash) asked Neeman about the bill in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, the justice minister said he is invoking “the right to remain silent,” because he is the chairman of the Judicial Selection Committee.

Neeman explained that, in his opinion, it would be a conflict of interest for him to answer such questions when it is part of his job to choose Supreme Court justices, adding that he will only express his opinion once the matter is not on his immediate agenda.

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