‘Okay’ to hurry along ‘Sohlberg Bill’

Rushing of bill deemed legal; proposes Bar Association appoint 1 coalition, 1 opposition member to Judicial Selection C'tee.

Knesset vote 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Knesset vote 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon declared lawful the legislative process on a bill that would regulate the way the Bar Association chooses its representatives on the Judicial Selection Committee.
The process was accelerated in advance of a committee meeting next Tuesday, and followed an investigation requested by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
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The bill’s first reading is anticipated to take place on Monday, one day before Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is expected to convene a meeting of the Judicial Selection Committee to vote on replacements for justices Ayala Procaccia and Edmund Levi, who have both retired. The committee will likely also name a replacement for Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who retires in February.
Opposition MKs Yoel Hasson (Kadima), Shlomo Molla (Kadima), Isaac Herzog (Labor), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Dov Henin (Hadash) complained to Yinon and Rivlin following heated arguments over the bill in a raucous Wednesday- morning Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting, in which the initiative was approved for its first reading in the plenum. The reading is expected to take place on Monday.
The opposition legislators said they were asked to vote on changes to the bill, but were not notified in advance or given time to discuss the revisions, which passed in the committee meeting.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rivlin instructed Yinon to check the legality of the process, and the legal adviser approved it four hours later.
The bill, nicknamed the “Sohlberg Bill,” is sponsored by Israel Beiteinu faction chairman Robert Ilatov, coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and others.
It was approved in its preliminary reading this past Monday, despite the opposition’s attempt at a filibuster, and is part of a package of judicial reform laws proposed by right-wing MKs in recent weeks that include the “Grunis Bill” and the law proposing a public Knesset hearing for potential Supreme Court justices.
The Bar Association currently chooses two representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee – one is always the association’s president.
The “Sohlberg Bill” proposes that the Bar Association appoint one coalition and one opposition member to the committee; currently, the association can have two representatives from the Left.
If it becomes law, the measure is expected to open up the doors for Jerusalem District Court Noam Sohlberg’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Sohlberg has been criticized by the Left because he lives in the Alon Shvut settlement. Opposition MKs have accused Ilatov and Elkin of drafting a “personal bill” because they favor Sohlberg.
Some of the changes proposed on Wednesday are that the Bar Association’s non-presidential representative must be elected by a two-thirds majority of its national board, and that the head of the association serve as its sole representative to the committee that chooses judges for Jewish, Muslim and Druse religious courts. In the original draft of the “Sohlberg Bill,” the head of the Bar Association was to serve on the Judicial Selection Committee, but the change was suggested to prevent the need to change a Basic Law.
Earlier this week, Elkin said that the bill’s passage in its first reading would be enough to influence the Bar Association’s choice of representative.
During Wednesday’s Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting, opposition MKs tried to delay the seemingly inevitable accelerated reading of the bill, appearing to compete over who could most creatively attack the coalition and the government.
“This is like the Italian mafia. [Disgraced former Italian president Silvio] Berlusconi should come and learn from this committee,” MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) said. “You’re turning it into a ‘bunga bunga’ party. You are crushing democracy. This bill signals to the legal system: We in the Knesset have assassins, and we are going to take you out, one by one.”
MK Nino Abesadze (Kadima) called the coalition “a bunch of neighborhood bullies or retarded children – no offense to the children.”
“You have a toy. It’s called the government, and you’re trying to ruin every part of it so others can’t play with it, too. The Right is trying to take revenge for events from the Altalena [ 1948] to the disengagement [2005],” Abesadze said.
“The Nuremberg Laws also passed by majority, despite being unconstitutional,” MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List- Ta’al) said. “Not everything is permissible. This law is wrong.”
Zvi Piron, the head of the Bar Association’s national board, asked lawmakers: “Why are you disrupting our democratic process? The goal is not ideological. It’s political and is being reached through greed and bullying. You are stealing the majority’s democratic rights.”
“The Left is going crazy,” MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said. “I don’t understand why they oppose a bill that would allow all opinions to be represented. If they want democracy, well, this is democracy.”
Ben-Ari also called the other opposition factions “hypocritical” for opposing accelerated legislation, saying “they forgot that the disengagement, which they excitedly supported, was passed with unprecedented haste.”
The meeting descended into a screaming match after committee chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) arrived two hours late, directly upon his return from a trip to the Philippines, and immediately called for a vote on the changes. Opposition MKs argued that they had been discussing the original draft, and were only now hearing about revisions.
Gal-On said Rotem is “a bully and a rude person. Put down your gavel, stop threatening us.”
“Get out! You’re not even an animal,” Rotem retorted, after which Sanaa accused him of leading a “reign of terror,” and Herzog called Rotem “the mafia, a gang leader.”
“If you have a new proposal, let us discuss it. Stop playing tricks – you’ve only been here for a few seconds,” Hasson said. “You’re a bully, a gangster, and you’re silencing us. You’re stealing this vote.”
Hasson was expelled from the meeting, as was Sanaa.
The committee voted on the new version of the bill, with seven in favor and two opposed. Many opposition members abstained, saying that the meeting was run unfairly. After Herzog requested an appeal, the bill passed once again, with seven in favor and six opposed.

Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.