Likud ministers rebel against ‘Bar Association Bill’

Ministers, MKs tussle over changes that would retroactively cancel election of lawyers to judicial selection panel.

Israeli Supreme Court 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)
Israeli Supreme Court 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)
Senior ministers and MKs got into a screaming match after ministers voiced opposition to an amended “Bar Association Bill” in Monday’s Likud faction meeting.
The changes to the bill, which would retroactively cancel the Bar Association’s selection of representatives to the Judicial Selection, were authorized for its second and third (final) plenum votes by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Monday morning.
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Seven coalition members voted in favor and six opposition members opposed the bill proposed by coalition Chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and Israel Beiteinu faction chairman Robert Ilatov.
However, during the committee meeting, the Attorney- General’s Office voiced opposition to the amended legislation, as did Likud ministers later that day.
Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor demanded that the Ministerial Committee on Legislation review the bill, telling MKs that the coalition cannot pass it without government approval.
The ministerial committee approved the bill in its previous version, which did not include the article canceling election results, in November.
According to Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the new bill is completely different from the previous version, and he shouted at MK Yariv Levin (Likud), one of the proposal’s signatories, stating that retroactively canceling election results is a dangerous precedent.
Levin retorted that the bill will end the “monarchic sovereignty” of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, in that it would make it more difficult for her to choose her own successors.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) accused the ministers of giving into pressure from the media.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat also voiced opposition to the bill, saying it will harm the Likud. She added that it is “intolerable” to retroactively cancel elections and make drastic changes without warning ministers in advance.
Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, as well as Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin, also slammed the “Bar Association Bill.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remained silent throughout the meeting, except for when he agreed to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz’s suggestion that Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman be invited to weigh in on the debate. However, Neeman was unable to make it to the Knesset at the last minute. Later on Monday night, Netanyahu said that he would not let the bill pass.
One MK in the Likud faction meeting, which was closed to the press, expressed surprise that the ministers waited until after the bill was prepared for its final readings to voice opposition.
“It seems to me that this is mostly political – an exhibition fight,” the MK said. “Otherwise they would have complained earlier in the process.”
The unidentified MK predicted that the legislation won’t be brought to a vote until Elkin and the ministers come to an agreement.
Meanwhile, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein clarified on Monday evening that he opposed the amendment to the proposed legislation, saying that the bill raises constitutional difficulties.
In a statement issued by his office, Weinstein reiterated that Deputy Attorney-General Orit Koren had explained Weinstein’s position to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee earlier on Monday.
Referring to the clause in the bill that would overturn a recent Bar Association election, Koren said the bill clearly aims to retroactively alter election results, simply because particular individuals are opposed to their outcome.
At the core of the issue is the relationship between the Bar Association bill and the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee, which chooses Supreme Court justices.
The new version of the bill declares that two Bar Association representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee will be selected via elections, in which the members of the Bar can only choose one candidate.
Those with the highest and second-highest amount of votes will become committee members.
Under current rules, two Judicial Selection Committee members are elected and usually belong to the majority faction in the Bar Association.
The new method decreases the majority’s power in Bar elections.
Koren added that the bill was an attempt by the Knesset to interfere in the selection process for Judicial Selection Committee members, and thus change the balance of power in the committee.
“The attorney-general’s position is that this is inconsistent with the Knesset’s role as the legislative branch, and that it is using legislative power for the worse,” the statement read.
The chairman of the Bar Association, or a representative of his choice, would serve on the selection committees for religious courts, as well as one more member of the Bar, who would be elected.
The Bar Association will be required to hold new elections for representatives of all three committees up to 30 days after the bill becomes law. The changes to Elkin and Ilatov’s legislation mean that elections that took place last month will be canceled.
Deputy Attorney-General Orit Koren warned that the Knesset is unfairly taking advantage of its authority in order to influence the results of Bar Association elections.
She added that the current version of the bill was not brought before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which means that the government does not have an official position on the matter.
According to government regulations, Koren explained, legislation with no official government position is treated as though it was rejected.
The Constitution Committee’s legal adviser, Sigal Kogot, slammed the bill, saying that the legislation’s “retroactive instructions” would be found unconstitutional if challenged in court, and that it changes the process from election to appointment, due to political intervention.
Elkin, however, argued that the bill simply anchors the current situation in legislation.
He explained the instruction to cancel last month’s election by pointing out that Constitution Committee Chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) asked the Bar Association to postpone its selection of representatives, and was met with a refusal, adding that, therefore, the Bar should not complain.
At a Kadima faction meeting, opposition leader Tzipi Livni said that the Bar Association Bill and the “Grunis Bill” were part of an attempt to appoint Supreme Court justices that are favorable to the government.
“The government wants to cancel democratic elections in the Bar Association, and replace them with people they like,” she said.
Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.