PM postpones vote on judicial selection reform

MKs from coalition, opposition speak out against the proposal; Sa'ar calls it a "red line"; Livni says bill seeks to silence justices.

November 13, 2011 16:31
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that the vote on the judicial selection reform bill sponsored would be postponed until next week.

The bill was put forward by coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin and MK Yariv Levin of the Likud.

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According to the proposed law, any justice appointed by the Supreme Court president would face a public hearing in the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, which would have the right to disqualify the judge from serving in the High Court.

MKs from the coalition and opposition spoke out against the proposal.

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Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) said on Sunday that the government this week "will try to advance laws that deal with silencing [of justices]," according to a Kadima press release.

If the bill passes, each justice "would be asked to prove that he is more nationalistic than the other," she explained. According to Livni, the judicial selections bill would cause chosen justices "to need to say thank you everyday to another politician for their appointment."

Speaking with high school students at the Ort School in Afula, the opposition leader promised that the Kadima Party will lead "the public battle against a series of laws that are not consistent with Israel's value system."

Also on Sunday, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), a member of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, called the bill "a red line," in an interview with Israel Radio.

According to Sa'ar, the Likud Party will not remain as it is if the bill passes in the Knesset with the party's support. The bill would lead to the complete politicization of the judicial selection process and would threaten the balance of power between government branches, he explained.

Currently, only the three judges in the Judicial Selection Committee can veto potential justices.

The proposed measure, along with a bill that was already given coalition backing by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and is meant to regulate the appointment of Judicial Selection Committee members, are part of a series of judicial reform bills Elkin and Levin are promoting before new Supreme Court justices are chosen in the coming months.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced opposition to the new bill on Saturday evening, saying “this is a dangerous proposal that will damage the independence of High Court justices.”

Ministers from Barak’s Independence Party planned to vote against the bill, and to “fight the destructive trend that harms the delicate balance of judicial supremacy,” the defense minister said.

MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, a Likud MK like Elkin and Levin, also spoke out against the bill, saying “it will bring Knesset politics in a blunt and disproportionate way into the walls of the High Court.”

“The logic of the bill depends on the coalition’s identity,” Shama said. “It is clear that those who proposed the bill and its supporters may find one day that they created a dangerous and uncontrollable monster.

“At the same time, it is clear to everyone that the current [judicial selection] process creates imbalanced groups of judges that twist the face of the High Court, and harm the public’s confidence in what is a cornerstone of the justice system,” Shama said.

Opposition MKs also slammed the bill, echoing an official Kadima statement from last week that the Likud is “trying to terrorize the justice system.”

“It is your responsibility to prevent Israel from turning into a banana republic in which only political wheelerdealers can be appointed judges,” MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) said in a message directed to members of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. “Even discussing this inappropriate bill is distressing and reflects the lack of values this government shows.”

Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz said that “Likud and Israel Beiteinu extremists, with backing from haredi factions, are competing with one another to wipe out all criticism and free thinking in the country: the justice system, the media, academia, culture and NGOs.

“Democracy does not disappear from a democratic country in one day, but in a process of methodically gnawing away at civil freedoms, during which the system of government changes,” Horowitz said.

Last week, Elkin defended the bill, saying that “[the public hearings will] allow the public to be more involved in the process of choosing High Court justices, in order to increase the public’s confidence in the court system.

“Transparency can only strengthen democracy and the public’s confidence in Israel’s judicial system,” Elkin said.

According to Levin, “This is the end of the radical left-wing hegemony over the courts, and the beginning of the entire system’s rehabilitation.

“The law will bring variety in the make-up of the High Court and its gates will open to Sephardic judges, Russian judges and nationalist judges,” he said. “It will also prevent the appointment of judges with a post-Zionist agenda.”

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