RZP MK Simcha Rothman said he disagreed with President Isaac Herzog’s calls to freeze the judicial reform legislation, but he said he was open to reaching an agreement and even met with the president on Sunday.
“I strongly disagreed with the president’s words, but I will pay attention to him,” the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman said prior to the meeting with the head of state. “We do not close the door no matter how many are working and speaking against us – in negotiations it is possible to reach an agreed solution if people decide that they are for the state and do not want to burn it down.”
The Religious Zionist Party lawmaker reiterated his position that there was broad agreement in society that a reform of the legal system was needed, and he was ready to discuss solutions to the problems.
Herzog repeated his call for negotiation for a broad agreement for the sake of the state and its citizens, in the meeting with Rothman.
National Unity MK Benny Gantz called on the president to demand that Rothman stop the “performance” going on in the committee.
“Levin and Rothman are continuing to advance a dangerous coup d’état – and in parallel, the constitution committee chair is going to speak to the president,” Gantz wrote on Twitter. “The falsification and smokescreen must stop – only halting the legislation will enable real dialogue. The honorable president must make this clear to Rothman and Levin, and not enable them to continue the performance.”
Ra’am MK Mansour Abbas noted that there were difficulties in discussion and negotiation over the reform bills because there were so many connected pieces of legislation but people could only discuss parts at a time.
“Agreement will only come from a balance between all the proposals on the table, all of them together produce the general outline,” said Abbas.
Opposition members echoed Herzog’s Thursday call to freeze legislation. Rothman criticized opposition leaders for their obstinacy in refusing to meet unless that precondition was met.
Labor MK Gilad Kariv argued that it wasn’t possible to develop an agreement in the time frame of continued legislation.
Rothman was also implored by Yesh Atid MK Orna Barbivay to meet with the protesters and speak to them about their fears and opposition to the judicial reform.
Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Kroizer argued that it was the opposition that refused to talk, as indicated by opening statements in the committee.
Likud MK Moshe Saada bemoaned the lack of dialogue on the issue in the Knesset.
“Everywhere I am except the Knesset there is dialogue, this is the only place that makes sure not to have a dialogue,” said Saada.
Judicial reform review committee
The committee on Sunday morning had assembled to discuss a judicial reform bill. The bill would restrict the High Court of Justice’s use of judicial review from Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws and alter the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee.
The committee would have representatives from the Israel Bar Association removed, and more elected officials added. Proponents argue that the current composition allows judges to select themselves, whereas critics contend that the proposal would give the ruling coalition an automatic majority on the panel and lead to full control of the committee.
During the session, former Meretz MK Anat Maor argued that the change in the selection committee would result in the takeover of the judiciary branch.
“An excessive concentration of power, which is a dictatorship, should not be given to any of the three authorities,” said Maor. “This bill is a blatant takeover of the legislative and executive authorities – this is a dictatorship.”
Rothman said he appreciated the concerns about the politicization of the committee and the want for professional panelists, but he disagreed with the idea. He contended that usually a Knesset only manages to appoint three justices to the High Court, which wouldn’t be enough to control the body.
Further legislation, which the opposition has characterized as part of the reform, continued in discussion in the Special Committee for Amendments to Basic Law: Government. The impairment law that will modify a provision on declaring a prime minister unfit for service to only be relevant to medical issues.
The bill was introduced by Likud MK Ofir Katz not long after media had reported that Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara was considering declaring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unfit for service over his conflict of interest over his ongoing corruption trials and the judicial reform. Her office denied these claims.
“There is no such thing in any country where an attorney-general can declare a prime minister unfit for service for reasons other than health,” said Katz. “I don’t remember that there was a ballot in the elections for the party led by Gali Baharav-Miara, maybe in the future [there] will be. She thinks she is the sheriff of the country, she thinks she decides everything here and we won’t let her.”
Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik said that it made sense to regulate the impairment procedure, but the proposed mechanisms and processes had to be fleshed out and refined by provision.
A vote to send the bill to the Knesset for its first reading was scheduled for Monday morning.
The so-called “Deri Law II” was also discussed at the special committee on Sunday. The law would prevent the High Court from interfering in the appointments of ministers using judicial review. The law comes after the court previously ruled that Shas chairman Arye Deri’s ministerial appointments had been unreasonable due to his criminal past, and dispute the first Deri Law that had permitted him to fill the posts despite his prison sentences.
Ahead of the debate, the Knesset legal department published a preparatory document contending that proponents of the bill had to justify the timing of the amendment and accommodate the law to impact the wider political system and not just MK Deri.
“A possibility to reduce the difficulty due to fear of misuse of the constituent authority is to establish a delayed application provision, which will eliminate the fear of special urgency in changing the Basic Law,” wrote the legal department.
Hebrew University Prof. Yoav Dotan said the amendment was problematic because the entire purpose was to legalize the appointment of one person with a criminal past.
The Knesset legal department also noted that there was no other arrangement among international peers in which a court would interfere in appointments.
Bar-Ilan University Prof. Gideon Sapir argued that there was a “serious violation of the separation of powers” and that it was “inappropriate for the court to compel the prime minister to fire a minister on grounds of unreasonableness.”