Israeli judicial reform: Coalition to have majority on judge appointment

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that Yariv Levin's judicial reform will be carried out "responsibly" and in a level-headed manner.

 Israel's Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2023.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israel's Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2023.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The coalition will have an absolute majority on appointing judges and will be able to appoint any judges it wants, Channel 12 reported Sunday, regarding Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s controversial plan to reform the judicial system.

The plan includes a provision to enlarge the Judicial Appointments Committee from nine to 11 members, and it gives the coalition the necessary seven-person majority on any vote: three ministers, two coalition MKs and two “public representatives” handpicked by the government, the report said. The other members will include three judges and one representative of the opposition, it said.

The committee currently has nine members and requires a seven-person majority. This gives veto power both to the three judges and to the three members of the coalition, thus forcing both sides to compromise.

Another change to the committee, according to the Channel 12 report, will be that the two coalition MKs will automatically be the Knesset Home Committee and Knesset Constitution Committee chairs, and the opposition’s representative will automatically be the State Control Committee chair.

Finally, the report specifies that a majority of 12 out of 15 Supreme Court justices will be necessary to strike down a law.

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting (credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

Levin refused to say whether the report was correct. He and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut met on Sunday for the first time since Levin announced his plans last Wednesday for sweeping reform of the judicial system, which would also curtail some of the Supreme Court’s power.

It was deemed an “introductory meeting” between the two, and the contents of the discussion were not revealed to the public.

Netanyahu: This is not the end of democracy

Claims that Levin’s judicial reforms are the “end of democracy” were baseless, and they will be carried out responsibly in a levelheaded manner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

He quoted former prime minister Yair Lapid, who in 2014 said there had been a “hostile takeover” by the “school of judicial activists” over the “political discourse and Israel’s decision-making realm.” He also cited comments by former justice minister Gideon Sa’ar, who in 2014 said, “The last word should be the Knesset’s, since the Knesset represents the people.”

“The truth is that the balance between Israel’s branches of government has been violated in the last two decades, especially in recent years.”

Benjamin Netanyahu

“The truth is that the balance between Israel’s branches of government has been violated in the last two decades, especially in recent years,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “This is an unusual phenomenon that does not exist anywhere else in the world – not in the US, not in Western Europe and not in Israel’s first 50 years of existence.”

“The attempt to restore the correct balance between the branches of government is not the destruction of democracy but the strengthening of democracy,” he said. “There is, therefore, no doubt that this needs to be done responsibly and levelheaded, and this is what we will do.”

The reform that the justice minister presented will be debated in depth and in a serious manner in the Knesset Constitution Committee, in which all opinions will be heard, without exceptions,” Netanyahu said. “This is the appropriate, natural and legal forum for this in-depth discussion.”

He did not comment publicly on the reforms, which Levin presented last Wednesday. Netanyahu expressed opposition to similar reforms in the past, but in recent years, his attitude toward the judicial system became more critical.

Netanyahu's past as a judiciary gatekeeper

Some people claim this had to do with Netanyahu’s indictment two years ago for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he says is a calculated attempt by the justice system to bring him down.

Later on Sunday, the deans of eight different law faculties at Israeli universities and colleges published a public letter that warned of “real threats to Israel’s democratic and inclusive character.”

They called the proposed reforms “extreme change in Israel’s constitutional and governmental makeup,” which would “relieve the government and the Knesset of important mechanisms of balance, oversight and criticism.”

“Implementing these proposals may turn Israel into a state that de facto has one unified governing body, since the coalition and government are, in any case, controlled by the coalition,” they wrote.

This could “brush aside the value of equality and gravely damage the defense of minorities and individuals,” they wrote, adding that this also might lead to “disproportionately preferring the Jewish religion over recognizing the country’s social and religious diversity.”