Until around one o’clock last Wednesday, I was absolutely sure that within an hour or so the Knesset would elect one member from the coalition and one member from the opposition to serve on the Judicial Selection Committee – Yitzhak Kreuzer from Otzma Yehudit and Karin Elharrar from Yesh Atid.
Since the opposition had threatened to abandon negotiations with the coalition under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog if it were not represented on the committee; and since it was known that Netanyahu wanted to avoid such a development, Elharrar’s election seemed safe.
Netanyahu had also provided assurances to the opposition, via Herzog, that there would be no tricks around this arrangement and that following the election of the two Knesset representatives, the committee would be convened.
Things went wrong
But things went wrong. Levin and other coalition members objected to Netanyahu’s agreement to enable the opposition to be represented on the committee – as had been the practice in the past – and insisted that the coalition elect the two Knesset representatives from among its own MKs, leaving the opposition bereft of representation. This was to ensure the coalition the necessary ordinary majority in the Committee, in order to be able to select the next president of the Supreme Court from among the Supreme Court Justices, rather than appoint the most senior Justice justice (the liberal Yitzhak Amit).
Levin and his supporters also welcomed the prospect of the opposition forsaking the negotiations and demanded that in such an eventuality, the coalition advance unilaterally with the legislation for the legal reform as originally submitted.
Since the last thing Netanyahu wanted was for Levin and his supporters to threaten the stability of the government, he decided to buy time by avoiding the election of the coalition’s representative to the committee altogether at this stage – and to announce that he would reconvene the Knesset within 30 days for this purpose. The prime minister therefore asked all the coalition’s candidates for Judicial Committee membership to withdraw. All but one – Likud MK Tali – complied with the request. Nevertheless, only Elharrar was elected with Gottlieb suffering an embarrassing defeat and receiving a severe set of parliamentary sanctions from her own party.
Despite Elharrar’s election, the opposition announced its immediate departure from negotiations with the coalition, seeing Elharrar’s election as an empty victory because the committee cannot convene until the coalition’s representative is elected. Additionally, Levin implied that he would not convene the committee even after the coalition representative was elected.
The opposition also suggested that once again, Netanyahu had demonstrated that all his promises and commitments were meaningless.
Netanyahu responded by saying that Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and MK Benny Gantz had proven that they never intended to reach any agreement with the coalition, and had not consented to a single compromise.
In his statement, Netanyahu completely ignored the compromises that had been reached on the issues of the appointment of legal advisors and on “unreasonableness” as grounds for judicial review. He also sidestepped the fact that from the start of negotiations, the opposition was clear that it would only agree to a comprehensive agreement on all the issues under dispute – including the method of selecting judges.
What is Netanyahu hoping will happen in the next 30 days?
First of all, he wants to see who will be elected head of the Israel Bar Association tomorrow.
Should the former head of the association, Efi Nave (who back in 2018 and 2019, when he held the post, was involved in two separate embarrassing transgressions of the law) be reelected – with Levin’s blessing – this would mean that if the two Bar Association representatives on the Judicial Selection Committee were to vote with the coalition it would have the necessary majority to select judges to its liking – even with an opposition representative on the Committee.
Netanyahu is also hoping that after Elharrar’s election, the opposition’s demonstrations in the coming weeks will be more moderate. All this in order to increase his chances of being invited to the White House by US President Joe Biden.
Tomorrow evening we shall know whether Efi Nave was elected. With regard to the demonstrations – if I were Netanyahu, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Under the current circumstances, they are unlikely to dissipate.
Although Netanyahu would undoubtedly be delighted if the whole legal reform issue were behind him, he will apparently have to take more effective measures to substantially curtail Levin and his supporters, which is liable to seriously shake the coalition.
So, for the time being, we are unfortunately left with more question marks than exclamation marks. I was much more optimistic last Wednesday morning.
The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensive journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge last year.