Likud MK proposes controversial limitations on lawmakers’ petitions to High Court

Courts’ intervention in Knesset violates separations of powers, MK Kisch argues; opposition calls initiative undemocratic.

YOAV KISCH. (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Knesset House Committee chairman Yoav Kisch (Likud) announced Thursday his plan to propose a bill to stop MKs from petitioning the High Court of Justice to overturn votes by the legislature.
The Likud lawmaker said the legislation is necessary to maintain checks and balances between the branches of government.
“The situation in which MKs and parties who lost votes in the Knesset turn to the High Court as a way to circumvent the Knesset shows a total disrespect for legitimate democratic decisions and the Knesset’s independence,” he said.
Kisch said the practice of lawmakers appealing to the judicial branch against Knesset decisions harms the separation of powers. He lamented an increase in MKs petitioning the High Court, and said lawmakers are usually part of a long list of people signed on to the petition who join it just to get press coverage.
Kisch cited former Supreme Court president Asher Grunis, who – in a response to a petition on the government’s natural gas plan – said the phenomenon of MKs petitioning the court is “certainly disconcerting” and comes at the expense of public debate and harms the Knesset’s standing.
The bill will not apply to petitions by MKs relating to personal matters or cabinet decisions.
Kisch – a committee chairman – plans to draft the bill as a committee initiative on July 4, circumventing the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Therefore the legislation could go to a first plenum reading the same day.
However, he may face an uphill battle.
Kulanu faction chairman Roi Folkman voiced opposition to the legislation Thursday, and Kulanu has veto power over matters relating to rule of law.
“The Knesset House Committee chairman has to realize that the Knesset is not the Likud central committee,” Folkman quipped.
“Recent moves to harm the democratic basis of the State of Israel by weakening the courts and the Knesset will not succeed.”
Several weeks ago, Folkman and several other MKs petitioned the High Court to require the new Israel Broadcasting Corporation be based in Jerusalem. Doing so, the Kulanu MK said, is a legitimate and democratic way to promote the party’s agenda.
Dozens of MKs from all opposition’s parties slammed the proposal as undemocratic.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) called the bill “part of a planned and organized campaign to move to a pseudo-monarchic system,” and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “putting a gun to the head of law enforcement and the judiciary.”
Former justice minister MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said the bill is “part of the extreme Right’s attempt to take over democracy, the courts and everything good.”
“The war for democracy is not theoretical; it is happening here and now,” Livni said.
“When the Likud joins Bayit Yehudi... and joins [Defense Minister Avigdor] Liberman, we must open an joint opposition front of everyone who cares about democracy.”
Meretz MK Michal Rosin said Kisch is making a populist attempt to “dismember” democracy, limit the public’s representation and harm freedom of expression.
“If MK Kisch was familiar with the Supreme Court and didn’t feed off of the delegitimization of his friends to the Right, he would know that not every problem can be solved in the plenum and sometimes we need the High Court to decide,” she said. “These are significant matters for the coalition and opposition that belong in the court.”
Kisch accused his detractors of hypocrisy.
“Opposition members are talking about the death of democracy, while they trample the principles of separations of power and majority rule,” he said. “Suddenly the ‘defenders of democracy’ are ignoring Justice Grunis. Stop these populist reactions...
The bill doesn’t ban petitions [by MKs] against the government; rather, it stops petitions against decisions made by the Knesset, the sovereign body elected by the people.”
In 2014, when MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) petitioned the High Court lamenting that the Knesset Finance Committee, then led by MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), was not transparent enough, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called on lawmakers to “forget how to cross the street and go to the High Court.”
Speaking in the plenum, Edelstein told MKs not to complain to him about issues if they’re going to take them to the courts.
“I have nothing against the High Court,” he said. “If it was an external entity [who complained] I would say it is not appropriate to intervene in Knesset procedure. The second it comes from within the house, from a member of Knesset, what can I say? Where is the shame?”