No judicial reform deal not before judge selection panel meets - Lapid

Yesh Atid said in a statement on Sunday that there would be no agreements until the Judicial Selection Committee convenes and begins its work.

 President Isaac Herzog leads the first round of judicial reform negotiations in the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 28, 2023 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog leads the first round of judicial reform negotiations in the President's Residence in Jerusalem on March 28, 2023
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

There will be no agreements with the coalition over the government’s proposed judicial reforms until the Judicial Selection Committee convenes and begins its work, opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid stressed in public remarks at his party’s faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday.

Convening the committee would be a practical step by the coalition that proves that it indeed intends to reach agreement with the opposition in the ongoing negotiations at the President’s Residence, the opposition leader explained.

The impending June 14 vote for the Judicial Appointments Committee 

The Knesset is scheduled to vote for its two representatives on the nine-member Judicial Selection Committee on June 14. The coalition traditionally allows the opposition to occupy one of the two seats. However, some ministers, including Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, called on the coalition to break with that tradition and appoint coalition MKs to fill both spots. Both Yesh Atid and National Unity threatened in recent weeks that if the coalition does so, they will walk away from the negotiating table.

But even if an opposition member does take up a seat on the committee, Justice Minister Yariv Levin is not required by law to convene the committee, nor to appoint judges by a certain deadline. Levin could, therefore, choose not to convene the committee, in the hope that the coalition may still be able to change the committee’s makeup so that it has a majority. This is arguably the most contentious part of the the judicial overhaul proposals, as the opposition has argued that it will politicize the courts.

National Security Minister MK Itamar Ben-Gvir put forward MK Yizhak Kroyzer from his party as the coalition’s candidate for the committee. Otzma Yehudit was promised a spot on the committee in its coalition agreements with Likud. Ben-Gvir that he had decided to also propose Otzma Yehduit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, to serve as a second option if the opposition names a male candidate, as the law requires one of the Knesset’s two committee representatives to be a woman.

 WILL THE talks under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog allow top opposition figures Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to reach an agreement with the government coalition on judicial reform?  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
WILL THE talks under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog allow top opposition figures Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to reach an agreement with the government coalition on judicial reform? (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The announcement came 40 minutes after the Likud announced that no decisions had been made regarding the committee, and that they would be made next week. Netanyahu reportedly met earlier in the day with Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Shas MK Arye Deri to discuss whether the coalition should occupy both spots on the committee. The prime minister’s office then issued a statement saying that any MK who wished could put forward their candidacy, and may remove it by next Wednesday. The prime minister’s office added that the coalition was acting “in every way possible” to reach an agreement with the opposition on the issue.

Likud MK Tally Gotliv put forward her candidacy to serve on the committee, reportedly without the party’s consent. Unlike most Likud MKs, Gotliv has voiced her opposition to some Likud policies since joining the Knesset in November. The vote for committee members is anonymous and, therefore, if she does not withdraw her candidacy, there is no way to ensure that coalition MKs will vote for an approved candidate, or for whoever the opposition puts forward. This could complicate any agreements within the coalition and between the coalition and opposition over the committee’s Knesset members.

YNET REPORTED on Monday that President Isaac Herzog and his staff were pressuring negotiators from both sides to announce a first agreement on the proposed reforms as pressure grows ahead of the Judicial Selection Committee vote.

The President’s Residence has denied the report, however.

“There are no agreements, there is a struggle to create agreements. The Office of the President once again recommends not to rely on tendentious and one-sided leaks. When agreements are reached, they will be presented to the public fully and transparently,” the office said in response to a query.

According to Maariv, one proposal was for the opposition negotiating teams that represent Yesh Atid and National Unity to announce their agreement to relatively minor laws, in exchange for a promise by the coalition not to legislate anything one-sidedly for the rest of the current Knesset’s term.

The first law, known as the “legal advisers law,” is one that would enable ministers to receive their own legal representation if their actions or policies are challenged in court and the Attorney-General supports the challengers, and not the minister. The second law would define and reduce the cases in which the High Court of Justice may use “extreme unreasonableness” as a basis to strike down government decisions.

Yesh Atid stressed in a statement on Sunday that “any agreements that will or will not be made will be given only within the framework of general agreement of all the issues, and a commitment to ending the debates on Israel’s system of governance,” the party said.

The “National Protest Leadership” condemned the apparent “emerging agreement,” calling it a “threat to Israeli democracy.”

“If the reports are indeed true, this so-called ‘compromise’ agreement amounts to no more than a surrender that compromises the very essence of Israeli democracy in exchange for hollow promises from Netanyahu. This is an unacceptable betrayal of the trust and aspirations of the millions who have actively voiced their concerns,” the protest leaders said in a statement.

“The proposed agreement reflects Netanyahu’s calculated strategy of eroding the judicial review process and undermining the role of the attorney-general, thereby jeopardizing the foundations of our democracy. It is alarming that Netanyahu’s own coalition partners have openly labeled him a liar, and yet, opposition leader Lapid and MK Benny Gantz seem willing to trust him.

“The millions of people who have joined the protests over the past five months did not rally for a surrender agreement. We reiterate that Lapid, Gantz and Herzog do not have a mandate to sign away our democratic values. If they choose to proceed with such a surrender, they will quickly find themselves rendered irrelevant, as the public’s trust in their leadership crumbles. They must remember that they have no authority to submit to those who seek to transform Israel into a dictatorship,” the protest leaders said.

They called on protesters to demonstrate outside of the President’s Residence on Friday.

Leaders of the opposition parties continued to spar on Monday over who should be the agreed candidate to sit on the Judicial Selection Committee.

Yesh Atid, National Unity and Labor have all offered candidates – MK Karin Elharrar, MK Pnina-Tamano Shata and MK Efrat Rayten, respectively.

Asked about the matter at a press conference ahead of his party’s weekly meeting, Lapid said that he was having trouble communicating with Labor since there were “different voices” speaking for the party. This was a jab at the existing tensions within Labor, since under party leader MK Merav Michaeli it is polling consistently below the electoral threshold.

However, Lapid stressed the importance of presenting a single candidate in order not to split the opposition’s vote, and Michaeli agreed. She responded to Lapid by saying that Labor was a democracy and different voices were welcome – an implied criticism of Lapid, whose party does not hold primary elections.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman criticized Gantz and Lapid for continuing to participate in the talks at the President’s Residence, arguing that any deal would give legitimization to Netanyahu’s government and the opposition should instead focus on making efforts to topple it.

“Stop with this game. You are simply harming our ability to destabilize Netanyahu’s tenure, and you are also harming the chance not only to talk but also to found a constitution in the future,” Liberman said.

Netanyahu on Monday convened a new ministerial committee intended to deal with the high cost of living, in which he said that there were “geological levels of revealed and concealed monopolies and all kinds of other barriers to competition,” and that his impression was that recently, “importers and retailers have simply lost their brakes.”

The prime minister asked that the professional echelon submit practical steps for the struggle within two weeks.

Lapid criticized the formation of the new committee, arguing that such a committee already existed – the statutory Socio-Economic Cabinet – that the prime minister also leads.

According to protocol, the Socio-Economic Cabinet, like the new committee, includes the prime minister, finance minister, economy minister, energy minister, Negev and Galilee minister and others, all of whom are part of the new committee as well.

“I can continue because it is great material for a skit by the [satirical comedy show] Eretz Nehederet. But it is not funny, it is sad,” the opposition leader said. Instead, the government should shut down “10 unnecessary ministries,” continue to open up the food and toiletries markets to competition, and solve a struggle between Economy Minister Nir Barkat and Labor Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur over who is responsible for the governmental Labor Branch, in order to enable new programs for employment of haredi men and Israeli-Arab women to move forward.

In addition, all the government needed to do was announce that it was dumping its judicial reform, Lapid said. This would bring back stability, and with it, investments in hi-tech, he added.