The bill standing at the heart of the government's proposed judicial reforms that gives the coalition a majority in the Judicial Selection Committee is set to pass into law this week, possibly ending the chance to reach a broad consensus and launching the country into deeper turmoil.
The bill gives any given coalition six out of the committee's eleven seats. These six are enough to appoint two High Court justices per Knesset term, without consent from the committee's two opposition MKs or its three judges.
The bill also gives the current coalition the power to decide who the next Chief Justice will be, as Chief Justice Esther Hayut finishes her term in October. The Chief Justice has many unique authorities, including assigning judges to cases and appointing senior election officials.
The coalition decided last week to limit to two unilateral High Court appointments per term in order to "soften" the bill and ensure that a given coalition could not stack the court with unilateral appointments.
However, opposition leaders, legal advisors to the government and Knesset, and protest leaders argued that this did not solve the problem of what they claim is the politicization of the court, as Israeli governments on average appoint approximately two judges per term – and thus the bill could lead to the entire court eventually being comprised of unilateral political appointments. In addition, giving a coalition control over the Chief Justice appointment would contaminate his or her decisions and damage the court's independent status, the bill's opponents claim.
The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is in the midst of voting on the 5,400 reservations that opposition MKs filed in an attempt to delay the bill. Once these votes are over, the bill will reach the Knesset plenum for its second and third readings, after which it will become law.
The coalition announced last week that this bill would pass before the Knesset recesses on April 2. The Knesset plenum will convene four times this week instead of the usual three in order for the bill to pass on time, as the opposition is likely to do all it can in order to delay.
Government to move forward with other legislation
The coalition will also attempt to pass into law a number of other bills, including the "Hametz Law", which allows hospital heads to bar leavened bread from entering hospitals during Passover; the "Gifts Law," which enables a sitting prime minister to receive funding for medical and legal purposes, and would free up the approximately NIS 4 million that was raised via crowdfunding to cover Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's legal fees; and the "Deri Law," aimed at barring the High Court from intervening in ministerial appointments, and designed to enable Netanyahu to reappoint Deri after the High Court struck down the appointment.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was expected to give a public address on Thursday and call not to pass the Judicial Appointments Committee Bill since it could lead to many IDF reservists stopping volunteering for duty. He called off the address after a meeting with Netanyahu, who reportedly asked the defense minister to "give him a few days."
Gallant reportedly has the backing of three other Likud members – MKs Yuli Edelstein, Eli Dallal and David Bitan. The coalition numbers 64 MKs, and the bill requires 61 votes since it is an amendment to a Basic Law. These four could thus lead to the bill's passage being delayed.
However, Gallant was fiercely criticized by a number of Likud MKs and ministers, as well as by other coalition partners, some of whom demanded that he resign. It is therefore unclear whether or not the four have the political will to stall the bill.
“Surrendering to such a threat is an existential threat to the state of Israel,”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in London on Friday that the phenomenon of soldiers and reservists refusing to obey orders as a protest against the judicial overhaul plan could destroy the state.
“Surrendering to such a threat is an existential threat to the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
The use of a refusal to obey orders as a political tool starts on the Left but can move to the Right, he added.
“It won’t end with one side; it will go from side to side. This question is very concerning to me. This is a very serious problem,” he said.
“The heads of the security establishment must take a firm stand against this refusal phenomenon.”
“The state cannot exist without the army. You will not have a state. It's very simple. All the red lines have been crossed here,” he emphasized.
Netanyahu is under additional pressure to pause the reform process due to the upcoming holiday period, particularly Israel’s memorial day for its fallen soldiers and its 75th Independence Day Celebration. Bereaved families are particularly fearful that the reform will mar Memorial Day events.
Netanyahu said, “even if I stopped [work on] the legislation, those who want to create a provocation on Memorial Day will do so.”
Netanyahu has pushed back at opponents of his reform plan, explaining that it will strengthen democracy.
An Israeli official underscored that message in London, defending both the plan and Netanyahu's announcement that he would take over the judicial reform process in defiance of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara. Baharav-Miara wrote to the prime minister on Friday that his speech had violated his conflict of interest agreement, which bars his involvement in any issues that could influence his ongoing corruption trial, including the judicial reforms.
The official said that this has no bearing on the issue because in a crisis this large it’s impossible for Netanyahu to stand on the sidelines.
It’s a sign of how absurd the debate has become that the will of millions of voters could be thwarted by a single government worker, the official said.
“This is how absurd the discourse has become: if you abolish the authority of an official [the Attorney General] to abolish democracy” then somehow that action of neutralizing an elected leader is deemed "a danger to democracy.”
The conflict-of-interest deal, “was never meant to be that encompassing,” the official said.
“In the face of the attempt to turn Israel into a dictatorship, millions will take to the streets and defend the State of Israel.”Protest organizers
Organizers of the judicial reform protests announced on Friday a "Week of Paralysis" for next week a day after the "Day of Paralysis" in which many thousands took part.
The organizers said that on Sunday and Monday, they will show up to any place that the government ministers and coalition MKs go to and protest there to let them know that "dictatorship will not pass on our watch."
On Tuesday, there will be a day of "widespread paralysis" throughout the country which will be "a step up from the previous days of resistance," the organizers said.
Wednesday will see protests in the morning followed by a large demonstration in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem later in the day. The organizers decided not to reveal what events will be on Thursday and said they will be disclosed at a later time.
"In the face of the attempt to turn Israel into a dictatorship, millions will take to the streets and defend the State of Israel," the organizers said. "Every citizen who wants to live in a democracy must take to the streets, oppose the dictatorship at all costs."