PM opposes draft law on judicial appointments

"The independence of the judiciary is above everything," says Netanyahu.

November 15, 2011 20:43
4 minute read.
Knesset vote [file]

Knesset vote 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in private conversations on Tuesday that a draft law mandating that a Knesset committee hold hearings approving appointments to the Supreme Court is against the country’s status quo and not in keeping with the coalition’s guidelines.

Netanyahu directed Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) to remove the proposal from the agenda.

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“A law like this will not pass in a government I head,” he said.

“The independence of the judiciary is above everything. I view as paramount the separation of powers and the rule of law.”

Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu’s position on the matter was heavily influenced by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, who met Netanyahu and his advisers on Monday and said that the law went too far. According to the report, Weinstein said the proposal was a “bad law” that upset the balance of power between governmental branches, politicized the judicial system and would harm the public’s confidence in the judiciary.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will discuss another judicial selection reform law on Wednesday morning, signaling the start of an accelerated legislative process for the controversial bill.

The Knesset House Committee voted to send the bill – proposed by MK Robert Ilatov (Israel Beiteinu) with support from coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and known as the “Sohlberg Bill” – to the constitution committee as soon as possible, making it likely to reach its first reading on Wednesday afternoon.

Ilatov and Elkin’s bill, which was approved in its preliminary reading on Monday, will regulate the Bar Association’s choice of representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee, should it pass three more votes in the Knesset.

The MKs proposed that the Bar Association appoint one coalition and one opposition member to the committee; currently, the Bar Association can choose two representatives from one side, as it has done in the past.

If it passes into law, the bill is expected to open up the doors for Judge Noam Sohlberg’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Sohlberg, who has been criticized by the Left because he lives over the Green Line in Alon Shvut, is currently a judge in the Jerusalem District Court.

Should the bill pass in its expected first reading on Wednesday, which is likely, it could be brought for second and third readings next Monday, one day before Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is expected to convene a meeting of the Judicial Selection Committee. The committee will vote on replacements for justices Ayala Procaccia and Edmund Levi, who have both retired. The committee will likely also name a replacement for Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who retires in February.

Many Knesset House Committee votes that assign a committee to discuss a law are uncontested, and generally do not draw many MKs, but the opposition took Tuesday’s meeting as an opportunity to slam the bill.

After house committee chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) proposed that the bill be sent to the constitution, law and justice committee, MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said, “This bill isn’t a matter of the constitution or of legality. I doubt it’s even constitutional.”

“Perhaps it should be discussed in the Knesset Interior and Environmental Affairs Committee, which deals with issues of pollutions,” Henin stated, “since this law is going to pollute our lawbooks.”

“This bill is a mockery of the law. In fact, it’s an affliction,” MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said. “Maybe it should be sent to the committee on drug abuse.”

MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) said to Horowitz that he is “trying to keep the courts politically comfortable for yourself,” to which the Meretz MK replied, “Are you crazy?” “There are new rules, and you’re upset, because you don’t have a majority in the Knesset, and in the courts, somehow, you do,” Orbach said. “Now that we want to change one person [in the Judicial Selection Committee], you’re panicking.”

“Suddenly everyone is complaining that every minor law has become ‘antidemocratic,’” Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev lamented.

“Everyone thinks that he is the forefather of democracy and understands the true meaning of the word.”

“Democracy means rule of the majority.

It’s translated from Yiddish!” MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union) joked.

“I think there is room for the public to see that the courts don’t only follow one, left-wing agenda, as it has for years,” Ze’ev added.

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