As a turbulent last discussion on the judicial reform bill regarding the Judicial Selection Committee was held on Tuesday in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Law Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman appealed for calm from the opposition.
Smotrich said that the opposition’s measures against the reform had created dangerous conditions for Israel’s democracy, threatening to impact the state’s economy and military. The finance minister appealed for calm and a reduction in rhetoric.
“This is a testing time for all Israeli citizens, Right and Left,” said Smotrich. “We must rise above politics, above suspicion and apprehension, above hatred and polarization and act together as one to restore unity to the nation of Israel and promote moves for real reform in the justice system for the benefit of all Israeli citizens.”
Attempts to reach compromise
Smotrich said that the coalition had attempted in the past to reach a compromise with the opposition, and still wished to talk with the anti-reformist camp. Without the opposition accepting negotiations, and with the concerns of fellow citizens in mind, he said that the reformist camp was forced to implement compromises by themselves. The coalition had subsequently made these changes on Monday, with a delay of most of the reform plan and the “softening” of the Judicial Selection Committee with a new bill version.
“It is a good change and responsible for the state,” said the finance minister. He noted that everyone agreed that a reform of some type was needed, and that the coalition “received a democratic mandate to make these fixes.”
As the Law Committee entertained what was set to be the last discussion before a vote to send the judge selection bill to the Knesset, thousands of reservations about the bill were submitted by critics and the opposition.
The submission of almost 5,400 reservations led to debate about the procedure for how to address them. Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik and Religious Zionist Party MK Rothman suggested using a special procedure that is utilized in such cases.
The deadline to submit reservations about the bill had been extended several times throughout the day, because of complaints from the opposition.
The Hadash-Ta’al Party alone filed hundreds of objections. They challenged the method for selecting a High Court of Justice president, and complaints about the lack of a public hearing for other candidates. Other more political reservations called for the judges not to reside in the West Bank.
The new version of the Judicial Selection Committee would increase the number of members on the panel from nine to eleven.
The judiciary would be represented on the panel by the High Court president and two justices. They would be replaced by presidents of the magistrate and district courts when making lower court appointments.
The justice minister, who is the head of the committee, would represent the government with two cabinet ministers. Five members of Knesset would be on the panel: two from the opposition and three from the coalition, and one of them being the Law Committee chairman. Each of the political representatives had to be from different factions. Each branch, including the judiciary, would be required to have at least one woman representative.
The panel, according to the new version of the bill, would select High Court candidates with a simple majority, in which abstentions wouldn’t impact the ratio. Meeting quorums would also be six members. For lower courts, the threshold for accepted judges would be seven panelists in favor of the candidate.
Other novel rules include discussion of the candidates before the Law Committee. Ostensibly to counter allegations that a coalition would have control of the judiciary with unhindered ability to elect judges, the new version included limits on coalition powers after the appointment of a second justice candidate in one term. A third candidate would require the consent of at least one opposition panelist, and with for a fourth, a judicial representative’s agreement.