The powerful 80,000-member Israel Bar Association will elect a new permanent president next Tuesday to replace Efi Nave.
What was a three-way race became a two-way battle earlier this week, when Avishai Reinman dropped out to support Avi Himi against Zion Amir.
Amir is the more colorful and charismatic of the two, handling the case of former president Moshe Katsav, portions of the Duma case, and other high profile cases.
Himi, who does not publicly display Amir’s fiery wrath for those opposing him in the courtroom but who has also handled high profile cases, is a confident public speaker who networks extensively.
Himi also has the advantage of being the acting president of the Bar Association, following Nave’s sudden scandal-forced resignation in January. Nave was forced out when the “sex for judgeship” affair broke for which he is under criminal investigation. The alleged scheme included Nave promoting two judicial candidates in exchange for sexual favors.
Before then, due to his nearly complete power over the Bar Association and alliances with key politicians, Nave had managed to stay in office despite a prior indictment for committing fraud against Ben-Gurion Airport customs officials.
In that case, he allegedly snuck a woman past the customs officials to avoid any record that they crossed through customs together, which might negatively impact his ongoing divorce proceedings.
Nave was considered close to ex-justice minister Ayelet Shaked and key to her conservative-leaning judicial revolution.
Some polls have shown Amir to have a lead, but Himi rolls out announcements of additional endorsements multiple times per week.
Whoever wins will get to choose two members of the nine-member powerful judicial selection committee, which appoints the country’s judges and Supreme Court justices.
The Supreme Court will soon rule on a number of issues, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public corruption cases to settlements to African migrants to balancing Judaism and democracy issues.
Himi told The Jerusalem Post that he strongly opposes any reform to give the Knesset veto power over the Supreme Court.
“I am completely against giving the Knesset the power, with a regular majority, to legislate laws that are against the values set down in the Basic Laws,” said Himi. “This possibility would undermine the status of these critical laws and the foundations of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Himi added that he was not opposed to recalibrating the balance between the branches of government in a non-politicized way, such that there could be a circumvention bill “which would be used in cases which were the exception to the exception based on a broad bi-partisan basis and with a special majority of at least 70 Knesset members.”
Some justices and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit have found this idea less objectionable, as it would typically require some support from opposition MKs – an indication of wide consensus on an issue.
Amir has gotten less specific on the issue, but has made statements indicating he may also support the Supreme Court’s independence more than Nave did in conflicts with the Knesset or Shaked.
However, Amir has also publicly expressed strong right-wing views on national security issues, indicating he might side with the political Right in battles with the judicial branch over striking the balance between national security and civil liberties.
Himi also appears to oppose Ohana’s ideas about abandoning the current judicial selection committee model in favor of greater Knesset and political control over the appointments process.
“Judicial appointments must be governed solely by professional considerations and not based on political ideology,” he told the Post. “Therefore, the Knesset cannot be solely in charge of the appointments process.”
Rather, he said, “the current committee for selecting judges strikes the right balance. It raises the banner of professionalism and prevents politicization.”
Amir also opposes changes to the current judicial selection committee.
In an area critical to lawyers, Himi and Amir have different ideas about the controversy for how high the bar should be set for people to attain the status of a lawyer.
Until this past year, the bar exam was thought to be too easy in Israel, and conventional wisdom was that there are too many lawyers, including many who are underqualified.
Responding to the issue, this past year’s bar exam was made extremely difficult, leading to an unprecedented percentage of candidates failing.
The percentage of those who failed the exam was so high that the Knesset eventually intervened and practically forced the bar exam commission to lower the passing grade so that another chunk of candidates could pass.
To avoid a recurrence, Himi has said that the key was not an impossible bar exam, but a hard exam at the end of the first year of law school.
He said this will allow a vetting process after only one year, so that those who are not really up to the standard for becoming lawyers will only have wasted one year instead of going through all of law school and then failing the final exam.
Amir has said that it should be harder to get into law school, and that the length of workplace clerkships – after law school and before one is a full-fledged lawyer admitted to the bar – should be lengthened.
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