The Knesset will choose its two representatives on the nine-member Judicial Appointments Committee this Wednesday, in a vote that is critical for the survival of ongoing talks at the President’s Residence over the government’s planned overhaul of the country’s judicial system.
Nine Knesset members from the coalition and one from the opposition registered their candidacy to serve on the committee by Wednesday night’s deadline.
They are: from the opposition, Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharrar, and from the coalition, Shas MK Uriel Busso, Otzma Yehudit MKs Yitzhak Kroyzer and Limor Son-Harmelech, and Likud MKs Tally Gotliv, Eli Dalal, Nissim Vaturi, Moshe Saada, Moshe Pasal and Avichai Boaron.
The coalition traditionally allows the opposition to occupy one of the Knesset’s two seats on the committee. Both Yesh Atid and National Unity threatened in recent weeks that if the coalition breaks this tradition and chooses to occupy both seats, they will walk away from the negotiating table over the judicial reforms.
The vote is anonymous, which means that if there is more than one candidate from the coalition, the government has no way of ensuring that the opposition will receive a spot.
In the previous Knesset, the coalition – led by current opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett – thus advanced only one candidate, Labor MK Efrat Rayten, who indeed was chosen to serve on the committee.
The coalition agreement between the Likud and Otzma Yehudit states that the latter will receive the coalition’s spot on the committee. Otzma leader and National Security Minister MK Itamar Ben-Gvir announced last week that this would be Kroyzer.
However, the six Likud MKs who put forward their candidacy could pose a problem, as at least one, Gotliv, announced that she would not remove her candidacy.
The opposition coalesced around Elharrar’s candidacy last week after National Unity and Labor both agreed to drop their candidates in order to present a united front.
Judicial Appointments Committee
The Judicial Appointments Committee is responsible for appointing all of Israel’s judges, including for the High Court of Justice.
The makeup of the committee is one of the most contentious issues in the government’s judicial reforms. According to current law, the committee includes 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 representatives of the Israel Bar Association.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin and other proponents of the judicial reforms argue that the Bar Association members have an interest in siding with the judges before whom they appear in court. This gives the judges a de facto majority in the committee and the ability to choose whomever they see fit.
Levin proposed to amend the committee’s makeup so that the coalition, not the judges, should have a majority in the committee, arguing that the democratically-elected representatives of the people would then be appointed the nation’s judges.
The opposition, however, argued that giving any coalition complete power over judicial appointments will turn these appointments into part of the political give-and-take, and thus create a system where judges are chosen due to their political affiliations and not their skill or expertise.
Even if an opposition member does take up a seat on the committee, 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 its makeup.
Lapid, therefore, demanded last week that not only must the opposition receive a spot on the committee, but that it must also begin its standard work within a reasonable time.