Judicial selection reforms pass initial votes

Kadima MKs say bills mark “black flag of unconstitutional status” that will turn Israel into a “dark dictatorship.”

Knesset vote 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Knesset vote 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Two controversial judicial selection reform bills passed in the Knesset late Monday night, despite an opposition attempt at a filibuster.
The second and more contested bill, which regulates the Bar Association’s choice of its two representatives on the Judicial Selection Committee, passed a preliminary vote with 50 and 32 opposed.
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Should the bill pass three readings in the Knesset to become law, it would require the Bar Association to appoint one coalition representative and one opposition representative to the Judicial Selection Committee.
There was only a brief discussion preceding the vote, with Israel Beiteinu faction chairman Robert Ilatov presenting the bill, as preliminary Knesset readings allow for only one opposition member to respond.
Ilatov said the bill would make the judicial selection process fairer and more democratic, as opposed to the current situation, in which the Bar Association can choose two representatives from the same side, as it has done in the past.
After the bill passed, Kadima MKs waved black flags. Their chairwoman, Tzipi Livni, said the judicial selection reforms marked a “black flag of unconstitutional status” that would turn Israel into a “dark dictatorship.”
The first bill, which passed in its first reading with 52 in favor and 35 opposed, would reduce the minimum tenure for a Supreme Court president from three to two years.
The bill, proposed by MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union), has become known as the “Grunis Bill,” because it would allow Justice Asher Dan Grunis to replace Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch (when she steps down in four months) despite having two years and 10 months before he turns 70 and will be required to retire.
Grunis is seen as a more conservative justice who is opposed to intervention in Knesset and government affairs.
The Knesset debated the “Grunis Bill,” which was widely seen as less controversial and likely to pass, for three hours, in an opposition attempt to filibuster the vote on Ilatov’s judicial selection bill, which could not be discussed at length since it was only a preliminary reading.
Katz defended his measure and Ilatov’s bill, saying the current Supreme Court justices are too homogeneous, and that other groups in society and points of view deserve to be represented.
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) called the opposition’s claims against the bills “hypocritical.”
Elkin pointed out that justice minister Daniel Friedman, who was appointed by Kadima and served from 2007 to 2009, “initiated and enacted dramatic changes in the High Court, which were supported by the rest of Kadima. We’re sick of your hypocrisy.”
During the plenum debate on the bill, MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) sarcastically suggested that instead of approving laws changing the Judicial Selection Committee “perhaps the government should save us some time and use its automatic majority in the Knesset to pass bills with names of specific judges that they want to appoint.
“Isn’t that the point of the bills presented tonight?” Horowitz asked.
Earlier in the day, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon (Independence) tried to appeal the Ministerial Committee on Legislation’s vote in favor of the bill to regulate the Bar Association’s selection. However, he was rebuffed, because the decision had already undergone an appeal and passed a second committee vote.
Independence then announced it would vote against the coalition.
Elkin explained that although the Judicial Selection Committee was scheduled to meet next Tuesday and Ilatov’s bill was unlikely to pass three readings by then, approval in its first reading would probably be enough to influence the Bar Association’s choice of committee members.
Opposition head Livni called a press conference to speak out against the measure, saying the coalition has been proposing “piles of bills, one after the other, marked with a black flag of unconstitutional status.”
“This is part of a process to harm the High Court,” she said. “Kadima is fighting to protect Israeli democracy.”
Livni said that when she was justice minister (2006-2007), she had “major arguments about the judicial selection process, but I will defend the High Court’s place as a cornerstone of Israeli democracy.”
The Kadima leader said the judicial selection reforms, along with a bill to limit foreign government funding for NGOs, are “draconian, anti-Zionist laws.”
“The government is worried only about its survival. The prime minister is afraid of criticism from his right-wing extremist party,” Livni said. “The result is that he is turning Israel into a dark dictatorship.”
Livni called for members of all Knesset factions to “work together as a voice of fairness and balance to defend Israel as a democratic and Jewish state.”
“The government is taking away people’s pride in being Israeli,” she said. “We need to stop them from turning Israel into a dictatorship that silences those who are critical of the government.”