Israel will fix its judicial system, Justice Minister Yariv Levin said in a fiery speech in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, as tensions between the coalition and opposition over the ongoing talks at the President's Residence continue to rise over a fast-approaching vote on the Knesset's representatives in the Judicial Selection Committee.
"We will fix the judicial system – we will do what is right in order to maintain the State of Israel as a Jewish state based on Zionist values, as well as on human rights and the equal treatment of every citizen equally."
Levin’s comments came during a debate over a bill proposal by Labor MK Gilad Kariv and Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen, to add the value of equality to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. The justice minister argued that while the opposition has threatened to leave the talks at the President’s Residence if the coalition goes forward with any of the judicial reform bills – the opposition itself was proposing a bill that could affect the balance of power between the judiciary and the legislature, since the provisions in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom are considered constitutional.
“MK Benny Gantz, who is threatening with never-ending thuggery – why don’t you rock the country over this?” Levin accused, referring to the National Unity chairman’s threat last week to withdraw from the negotiations if the coalition continued with its judicial reform.
“Post-Zionist agendas have entered the judicial system, and the High Court of Justice in particular,” Levin accused, and does not allow for “anything Jewish, God forbid,” unless it “does not bother those who sit there in the court.”
Opposition MKs shouted responses to Levin during the speech. Former justice minister, National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, said to Levin, “You are destroying the country, and we will not let you.”
Tensions rise in Knesset ahead of vote on Judicial Selection Committee representative
The clash in the plenum highlighted the high level of tension between the coalition and opposition, and between the opposition parties themselves, over the June 14 vote on the Knesset’s representative to the Judicial Selection Committee – the makeup of which is one of the most contested issues of the judicial reforms.
A coalition law to alter the makeup of the committee reached its final stage of legislation, the second and third reading in the Knesset plenum, before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a legislation freeze of the judicial reform on March 27. The coalition wishes to give itself a majority in the committee and thus control judicial appointments, while the opposition claims that this will politicize the courts and harm the judicial system.
However, since the bill did not pass, the Judicial Selection Committee is expected to form according to the existing makeup. The nine-member committee elects judges for Israel’s entire court system, including for the High Court of Justice. It is made up of three High Court justices (one of whom is the chief justice), two ministers (one of whom is the justice minister), two Knesset members and two members of the Israel Bar Association. One of the justices, Knesset members, ministers and Bar Association members must be a woman.
In the committee’s existing makeup, the coalition traditionally enabled the opposition to fill one of the two Knesset spots. However, coalition members threatened in recent weeks that if no agreements are announced over the judicial reforms by the time the June 14 vote is held, it will use its majority in the Knesset to break this tradition and grant itself both of the Knesset’s spots on the committee. Members of the opposition’s negotiating teams threatened in response that if the coalition does this, they will leave the negotiations at the President’s Residence.
The deadline for MKs to announce their candidacy for the committee is June 7, and this deadline will be telling. If the coalition puts forward two names, it likely means that it intends to use its majority in the Knesset to occupy both spots on the committee. However, if it only puts forward one name, the second spot will automatically go to whichever opposition candidate receives the most votes.
GANTZ AND opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid met on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the opposition’s representative for the committee, after the two parties clashed on the issue earlier this week. They agreed to “continue to act together and in coordination on the issue of the Judicial Selection Committee,” according to a statement put forward by both parties.
The tension in the opposition began over who the opposition’s candidate for the Judicial Selection will be – Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharrar, National Unity MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, or Labor MK Efrat Rayten.
Ynet reported on Tuesday that “officials in National Unity” had reached out to Likud Knesset members in an attempt to garner their support for Tamano-Shata. However, a spokesperson for Gantz denied the report, calling it “lies and spin” likely put out by the Likud in order to fuel the tensions in the opposition.
A Likud source said on Wednesday that the party prefers Tamano-Shata over Elharrar. If Tamano-Shata runs for a spot on the committee, she is likely to receive the coalition’s support and win it, the source said. If this happens, a crisis could develop in the relations between Gantz and Lapid, who announced Elharrar’s candidacy three weeks ago.
Likud MK Keti Shitrit, who is a member of the coalition’s negotiation team at the President’s Residence, said Wednesday on Army Radio that the sides would soon publish a document laying out the issues that both sides agree on.