A bill to replace the Israel Bar Association with a government controlled council passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.
Fifty Knesset members supported the bill, and 43 were opposed. The Bill will be forwarded to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for further preparation.
The bill would establish a Bar Council that would be responsible for the granting of licenses, supervise the certification process, maintain a database of attorneys in Israel, and conduct disciplinary action.
The chairman of the council, who would need to have jurist qualifications, would be appointed by the Justice Minister. Four other attorneys and an academic coordinator would be appointed by the Law Committee, and three civil servants who are lawyers by the minister. The Finance ministry would have two representatives, and the judiciary one.
Concerns over what this means for Israel's democracy
"This is a thuggish, anti-democratic and immoral law. They want to dismantle everybody that upholds the law and preserves democracy," said newly elected Bar Association head Amit Becher. "The Bar Association will fight the decision in every possible legal way until it is annulled."
National Unity MK Gideon Sa'ar attacked the bill, saying that it was politicizing the Bar system. He said that the bill was being passed because the coalition's favored candidates didn't win the June 20 Bar election.
The Black Robes, an anti-judicial reform protest group made up of attornies, said that "The proposal to dissolve the bar illustrates more than anything why the power of politicians should be limited. Those who cancel the elections in the Bar Association because they do not like the results, will not hesitate to cancel the results of the Knesset elections one day."
Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky, who submitted the bill, rejected the complaint that the Bar election motivated the legislation. Milwidsky said that he had submitted the bill just after the formation of the Knesset, but had frozen it with the judicial reform negotiations, and then again because of the Bar leadership race.
"Unfortunately, in recent times the Bar Association has become a completely political body when the funds from membership fees are used for political purposes that have nothing in common with the good of all lawyers," said Justice Minister Yariv Levin.
The explanatory notes of the legislation argues against a professional body, like the current Bar, which would not serve the public interest but those of the professionals. It is argued that the Bar had a great degree of power through its ability to appoint two representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee, which selects judges for the Israeli judiciary.
The composition of the committee, and Bar representatives on the panel, is one of the key issues of the judicial reform debate. Reformists seek to change the composition of the committee to have more elected officials, which they see as more democratic, while critics argue for a balance and check of government power with professionals.
Judicial reform negotiations fell apart in mid-June after the Knesset election of a Knesset member to the Judicial Selection Committee -- but another MK needs to be elected, and the opposition is demanding that it be convened and begin operating.
Levin on Wednesday said at the Knesset plenum that the Judicial Selection Committee would not be convened until the composition of the body was changed.
"The composition of the Committee for Choosing Judges is deformed and requires repair," Levin said when asked by new Judicial Selection Committee member MK Karine Elharrar when the panel would be convened. "Unfortunately, the opposition factions decided to withdraw from the talks and thus brought the explosion. In these circumstances, a fix is required on the subject and this is in the end, I hope, will also be done."