The ongoing talks at the President's Residence over the government's judicial reforms are at a crucial point, ahead of the Knesset's June 14 vote for its two representatives for the nine-member committee that elects Israel's judges, known as the Judicial Appointments Committee, former Labor MK and current mediator and lawyer Revital Swid said in a conversation with Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Correspondent Lahav Harkov at the Post's Annual Conference in New York on Monday.
According to Swid, if the coalition chooses to occupy both spots on the committee with coalition Knesset members, the talks will likely end. If the coalition enables one of the spots to go to an opposition MK, as is Knesset tradition, the talks will continue. The vote is therefore key, Swid said.
"I think the negotiations are ok, but it depends if the coalition is there with good faith, because not many people know, but the law of the [coalition to give itself a majority on the] Judicial Selection Committee passed its first reading and also its preparation for the second and third reading," Swid said. This means that the law, which would give the coalition complete control over the appointments of Israel's judges, could pass within hours. Therefore, the danger of the reform is not over, she said.
As a litigator for 25 years, Swid admitted that like every system that has power, there are things in the judicial system that need to be changed and fixed. But the reforms in their initial forms as announced by Justice Minister Yariv Levin would have ruined the system by politicizing it, and would not have fixed it, Swid said.
"If you want to change the system, then you have to do it with politicians, with judges, with NGOs, you need a round table to sit and talk and negotiate, you cannot do these changes one-sidedly like Levin and [Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Simcha] Rothman tried," she said.
"We really fear that the entire system is going to change," and this is what caused the social rift in Israel and led many people, for 22 straight weekends and sometimes during the week, to protest, Swid added.
Asked what a compromise on the reform would look like, Swid said that the first step needed to be an announcement that it would not pass one-sidedly. There would then need to be talks that encompass all sectors in Israeli society, without threats of legislation hanging over their heads, in order to come up with something that has broad consensus.
"The most important thing is that we do not have a constitution, we do not have two [legislative] houses, and Basic Laws are like ordinary laws and can be changed easily. That is why when they want judges to be elected only by politicians from the coalition, you understand that the system will lose its independence, and we cannot afford the judicial system to be weakened," Swid said.
"In the international arena, our Supreme Court is known as one that defends human rights and individual rights, and serves as a shield for the army [from international investigations] in wars and other times. If the international arena thinks that the system is controlled by politicians, it will cease to serve as this shield," Swid said.
What led Israel's Labor Party to decline?
Switching to politics, Swid provided her analysis over what led to the deterioration of the Labor Party from one that ruled Israel for its first three decades, to one that is struggling to pass the electoral threshold.
"It goes back 20 years. In 1992 Labor was very strong, the topic was peace, we had the Oslo Accords, you really felt that it was a ruling party. But over the years, when we started to understand that there is no partner on the other side, and then with the Second Intifada and collapse of the Oslo Accord, the Labor Party was weakened - and of course [former prime minister and Labor chairman Yizhak] Rabin was murdered," she said.
This led to the rise of centrist parties like Kadima, Hatnuah, Yesh Atid, and Blue and White, which drew votes away from Labor.
"If you ask me, in the next election there has to be one Left party, which can win eight-ten seats. A left-wing Zionist party is one that must be in the Knesset," Swid concluded.