The coalition’s party leaders and additional representatives convened on Sunday evening to discuss a “softening” of the government’s proposed judicial reform.
In addition to the party leaders, the meeting was attended by Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman, who are responsible for preparing the reform’s major bills.
While the coalition party heads meet every Sunday, a number of reports indicated that decisions would be made during this meeting over which provisions of the judicial reforms will pass before the Knesset recesses on April 2 for approximately a month, and a version of these provisions will be codified into law.
On Sunday, Rothman presented a drastic new version of the Judicial Selection Committee bill, which would increase the number of committee members from nine to 11.
Two additional MKs would be added, for a total of five MKs. Three, one being the Law Committee chairman, would be from the coalition, and two would be from the opposition.
Each would need to be from different factions. The previous plan would have required one opposition MK, codifying a longstanding tradition. The coalition, opposition, ministers and judges would each have to have one female representative. The justice minister and the Supreme Court president would not be included in matters of representation.
While the two Bar Association representatives would still be removed, the judicial representatives would no longer need to be retired judges but could be current Supreme Court justices, as in the current system, albeit chosen through consensus by the justice minister and the Supreme Court president.
The majority threshold for appointing Supreme Court justices would be a simple majority. There would also be a veto for judicial representatives once the third appointment in a term was reached.
The plan would also, in effect, create a second parallel Judicial Selection Committee for lower courts. Two of the justices would be replaced by a district court president and a magistrate’s court president. This committee would have a threshold of seven votes.
“The purpose of these arrangements is for more people in Israel to feel that the Supreme Court is theirs, and that is why we brought diversity – the diversity of factions, diversity between coalition and opposition and also the issue of appointments being vetoed by the judges, as it is currently,” Rothman said at the session. “With all the arrangements, we managed to make a square a circle so that the people can choose the judges. But on the other hand, a changeable political force will not be able to take over the court.”
How were the changes received?
The changes were attacked by both coalition and opposition MKs.
“Rothman ran the committee for two months and in the end surrendered and became shamefully weak,” Likud MK Tally Gotliv said. “I won’t come anymore to the Law Committee for reform debates. I am horrified by Rothman’s weakness. What were we fighting for if not a majority in the committee for appointing judges?”
The Movement for Governance and Democracy said it was unacceptable that Rothman would allow a veto to the judicial representatives.
“The new proposal that grants a right of veto on the appointment of judges to the High Court starting with the third appointment [in the term] is not acceptable,” it said.
The Black Robes protest movement said it was still dissatisfied, adding that such a system would still lead to political judges being selected.
Reports of changes to the reform plan in a coalition meeting led to verbal attacks on Rothman at the panel’s session Sunday morning.
Opposition committee members cited Israeli media reports that the coalition would meet Sunday evening and delay most of the judicial reform provisions but advance changes to the Judicial Selection Committee. They said there was no point in the discussion of the current bill on changing the Judicial Selection Committee if unilateral action would be taken by the coalition.
Rothman told the committee not everything read in the media should be accepted as truth but did not say the allegations were false. He said the Judicial Selection Committee bill would be changed, but through the Law Committee’s discussions.
A spokesman for Levin said: “What we don’t manage [in] this session will be postponed to the next session.”
The Knesset is set to adjourn in two weeks for Passover and reconvene a month later.
The coalition would have to soften the reform unilaterally, and a softened reform will be presented, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli told Army Radio on Sunday.
Likud MK David Bitan criticized the government on Sunday for rejecting calls from within the party to freeze the legislation until a compromise is worked out.
“If the economic doomsday predictions come to be, the Likud will end its career,” he told Channel 12.
There were at least five MKs within the Likud who supported freezing legislation, he said, adding that no one from the government was listening to this group.
“Just as [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin expects me to vote in favor of the Likud’s positions, I expect him to heed the Likud’s members,” Bitan said.
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein also spoke out in favor of freezing the legislation. Likud MK Danny Danon has called for a watered-down reform.
Most of the components of the judicial reforms are amendments to Basic Laws and require a majority of 61 MKs. The coalition numbers 64 MKs. While it is highly unlikely that this will happen, it is enough for four coalition members to abstain from a vote for it not to pass.