Analysis: The battle is on for control of judiciary

The future of the judiciary is yet to be determined. But the battle is in full swing.

June 4, 2013 22:26
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and MKs at Knesset, 3 June 2013.

Knesset meeting Netanyahu and coalition 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

With Yisrael Beytenu MK David Rotem shockingly bounced from the crucial judicial appointments committee, and Likud MK Yariv Levin fighting to drop one of the judges on the committee in favor of an academic, the fight for control and the future of the judiciary is on.

Reportedly, a back-room deal had been reached ahead of Monday’s vote for Labor MK Isaac Herzog and Rotem to be chosen by both coalition and opposition MKs to ensure the tradition of one coalition and one opposition MK serving on the committee.

The deal was unexpectedly upended on Monday, when a secret ballot vote elected Herzog, but left Rotem out in the cold in favor of Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen.

That means two opposition MKs – and no coalition MKs – are joining the committee.

How did the coalition, with a clear majority, blow its one spot on the nine-person committee? There is no way to know for sure because of the secret ballot, but speculation has focused on the idea that Hatnua and Yesh Atid – along with some Likud members – may have burnt Rotem.

Why? There is unconfirmed speculation that Likud MK Reuven Rivlin rallied some supporters to veto Rotem as perceived payback for Yisrael Beytenu ousting Rivlin as Knesset Speaker.

But the much bigger issues revolve around Rotem’s identification with a wing of politicians trying to tame or “conservatize” the courts, following their criticism of the judiciary as too liberal and activist.

Rotem and his followers would like to ensure that Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis and other soon-retiring judges are replaced by equally conservative or even more conservative candidates.

Grunis has not been everything that conservatives wanted, sometimes unpredictably voting in a “liberal” manner or fighting for judicial independence.

But overall, Grunis has significantly rolled back the court’s involvement in major issues and has moved the court in a much more conservative direction than it had been going for decades following the reigns of Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinisch.

Dropping Rotem means that leftist forces in the coalition are fighting back to possibly replace Grunis and others with more liberal-minded judges.

Hanging in the balance are controversies over the heart of the settlement enterprise, African migrants, electoral reform, Arab-Israeli issues, the balance of security vs personal freedoms, religion and state, the futures of politicians like former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and a plethora of other concerns.

On Tuesday, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel issued a statement opposing attempts by Levin to swap one of the appointment committee judges for an academic. The committee is currently composed of three judges, two bar association appointees, two MKs and two ministers, one of who is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

The movement said that swapping a judge for an academic would change the balance of the committee from five legal professionals to five politically-interested appointees.

On its face, the idea of switching a judge for an academic appears to maintain five non-political members on the panel. However, there is concern that whoever appoints the academic representative would be more politically influenced than the judiciary, which appoints the judges to the panel.

Levin’s advancement of the proposal is also cause for concern, since he, like Rotem, has a clear agenda of restricting judicial power and moving the judiciary in a conservative direction.

The final factor that will play a role in the upcoming judicial appointments is Livni, who is considered either more liberal – or at least less conservative – than her predecessor Yaakov Neeman.

The future of the judiciary is yet to be determined. But the battle is in full swing.

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