Judicial Selection panel fails to agree

Committee must fill three Supreme Court vacancies as Neeman is not able to find compromise.

The Judicial Selection Committee failed Friday to fill the three sorely needed vacancies on the Supreme Court. The warring parties in this case are Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and her two colleagues, Justices Ayala Procaccia and Edmond Levy, versus three right-wing politicians - Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) and MKs David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu Party) and Uri Ariel (National Union). Standing in the breach, trying, apparently unsuccessfully, to find the magic compromise, is Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. Neeman plays the game the old - and apparently now defunct - way. Like Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit before him, he was ready to make a deal with Beinisch. She wanted her old protégé, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Uzi Fogelman, on the bench. He agreed in return for her consent to Beersheba District Court Judge Yoseph Elon. In the old days, the two probably could have reached a compromise on a third candidate, and that would have been that. But the balance of the nine-person Judicial Selection Committee has changed in the 18th Knesset, and there are now new players and new rules. The new rule is that it takes a majority of seven committee members to approve the appointment of a candidate to the Supreme Court. The new players are the bloc of three politicians who are all right wing and hostile to the activist court that developed under Beinisch and her predecessor, Aharon Barak. For the past 27 years, the two MKs on the committee represented the opposite sides of the political divide, while, for the last few years at least, the two representatives of the Israel Bar have also represented different points of view regarding the role of the Supreme Court. Thus, there are now two blocs of four members each: the three politicians and Israel Bar representative Pinhas Marinsky versus the three Supreme Court justices and Israel Bar representative Rachel Ben-Ari. Since his appointment as Minister of Justice, Neeman has treated Beinisch with respect and even deference, although he is by no means one to bow to her every wish. Unlike in the past, however, the right-wing bloc in the committee is cohesive, ideologically committed and refuses to defer to Beinisch because of her position as president of the court. On the contrary, though they have not been provocative in their public statements, the three seasoned politicians are determined to make their mark on the composition of the court. Thanks to the law requiring a majority of seven committee members to appoint a Supreme Court justice, the bloc can prevent the appointments of Fogelman and Elon. On the eve of Friday's critical meeting, the right-wing bloc appears to be ready to accept Fogelman and Elon. But it, too, has a condition. Both Beinisch and Neeman must accept its candidate for the third court vacancy. The bloc has proposed three candidates, all of them religious. They are attorney Dov Frimer, Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg and Tel Aviv District Court Judge Issayiho Schneller. So far, Beinisch has refused to accept this deal. According to some reports, she is willing to contemplate appointing the right-wing bloc's candidate as a temporary justice for six months. But Erdan, Rotem, Ariel and Marinsky will have none of that. If their man gets a temporary appointment, all three candidates should be appointed temporarily, they say. This is the dilemma that the Judicial Selection Committee will be facing when it faces off at the Justice Ministry on Friday morning. Neeman, the master negotiator, compromiser and deal-maker, will be hoping that the outcome will not be a goalless draw.