A series of bills that could weaken the power of the Israel’s judicial branch is set to reach the Knesset floor this week. The proposals, originating from the right flank of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, would change the way the Supreme Court’s president is selected, minimize the court’s influence in appointing new judges, and make it easier to pass laws that have been struck down by the court.
Some of these measures were attempted in the last Knesset, but failed for a variety of reasons, including opposition from Netanyahu.
As it currently stands, the Supreme Court president is chosen by the nine-member Judicial Selection Committee. The president of the court, typically its senior member, is picked for a seven-year term. The new bill proposes that the Knesset itself elect the Supreme Court president for a five-year term.
Another bill would change the make-up of the selection committee. Since 1994, the nine-member committee has consisted of the chief justice and the two senior justices, the justice minister and another cabinet minister, two MKs (usually one of from the opposition and one from the government), and two members of Israel’s Bar Association.
Under the bill, the Supreme Court would lose two seats on the judicial selection committee, leaving it with just one vote. The two justices would be replaced by a retired District Court judge who would be chosen by the heads of the District Courts, and an academic chosen by the prime minister.
A third law would make it easier for the Knesset to reenact legislation that the Supreme Court struck down under the Human Dignity and Liberty and Freedom of Occupation Basic Laws. The bill would allow a simple Knesset majority of 61 votes to attempt to repass legislation within four years of the Supreme Court decision. The Knesset currently needs at least 80 members to circumvent the court.
In 2012, a similar bill seeking to enable 65 of the Knesset’s 120 members to re-legislate laws failed to pass.
The measures are supported by the Likud-Beytenu, Jewish Home, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. Center-left and left-wing factions Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, and Hatnua are all expected to oppose.
“I think we have a distorted system that no other country in the world has, in which the judges themselves participate in their own selection,” coalition chief MK Yariv Levin, who is leading the effort to get the bills passed, told Israel Radio on Sunday. “It is done in a system of cronyism….I think there is no place for this. The change is positive because a foundation of democracy is that no branch should be able to choose itself, so it cannot be that judges will control the system of selecting themselves.“
Levin argued that the court was controlled by a far-left faction that imposes its agenda on the Israeli public.
These measures, he said, are being pushed in order “to end the court’s intervention, in which it relies on its own judgment in place of the legislative and executive branch in matters that have to do with one’s worldview. The same minority that controls the judiciary tries to use its strength in order to impose its values on the entire society.”
He described the court as “sometimes even radical,” accused them of regularly siding with non-Israelis over Israelis on the basis of the litigants’ identities.
Speaking on the same radio program, Yoram Rabin, dean of the Haim Striks School of Law at the College of Management, called Levin’s characterization “nonsense.”
“As always, only what is right-wing is Zionist, and if it’s not right-wing, it’s anti-democratic. This is obviously incorrect. The correct understanding is that this should be a ‘liberal’ court that has a worldview about democracy and protecting minorities, with no connection to right or left.”