ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Coalition blasts opposition negotiator who insists government can’t choose justices

National Unity MK Chili Tropper says ‘no way’ overhaul compromise talks will hand coalition a monopoly on judicial selection; justice minister: He wants to ‘blow up the talks’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Then-culture minister Chili Tropper, in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90/File)
Then-culture minister Chili Tropper, in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni‎‏/Flash90/File)

The coalition on Thursday railed against MK Chili Tropper, one of the negotiators for the opposition in fledgling compromise talks on the government’s judicial overhaul plan, after he insisted in media interviews that the coalition would not be granted the exclusive right to appoint judges to the top court.

This led Justice Minister Yariv Levin to accuse the National Unity party MK of seeking to “blow up the talks and set the country on fire.”

The pair eventually spoke on the phone Thursday evening and agreed to tamp down the invective despite their disagreements. Levin and Tropper said after speaking that while they remained at odds on the issues, they have “mended fences” personally.

The makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee — which currently divides power between politicians and justices to decide on new judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court — is one of the most contentious parts of the overhaul.

The coalition has almost completed legislation of a bill that would heavily politicize the committee and give the ruling coalition control over most judicial appointments.

On Tuesday, the day after mass demonstrations and sweeping strikes led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce he was pausing the overhaul for at least a month to allow for talks on a compromise, opposition MKs fumed to learn the judicial selection bill had been submitted to the Knesset for its final votes, which would enable it to be brought for approval with a day’s notice. The coalition said it was a technical move that didn’t indicate bad faith in the talks.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a debate and a vote in the Knesset plenum, March 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Suspicion is nevertheless running high, and Tropper said in media interviews Wednesday and Thursday that there was “no way” the opposition would agree to let the coalition select justices on its own.

“We have a very clear principle,” he told the Ynet news site. “There won’t be a situation in which the coalition or the government appoints judges. This won’t happen — we won’t lend a hand to it.”

Tropper added more fiery remarks, threatening to bolt the negotiations if the coalition “scams” his side and continues the legislative process, and saying coalition leaders have “made every possible mistake, headed full speed into this issue and run headfirst into a wall.”

Members of the coalition reacted furiously.

Levin said: “It turns out that under the conciliatory facade hides something completely different. MK Tropper, with blunt language, is declaring in advance that for National Unity these aren’t real negotiations, but rather plans to impose demands aimed at blowing up the talks and setting the country on fire.”

Levin had himself indicated Wednesday that he was already preparing to pass the current laws without compromise.

“I urge all opposition representatives to come to the negotiation table out of a sense of responsibility and a genuine will to reach agreements that respect the huge portion of the public that yearns for a meaningful reform in the justice system,” Levin added.

Religious Zionism MK Zvi Sukkot tweeted that Tropper was “trying to blow up the negotiations” and was “forgetting that he’s in the opposition.” His party member MK Ohad Tal said “the oppositional minority thinks it’s running the country,” adding: “Prove your seriousness, stop issuing ultimatums or laying blame ahead of time.”

President Isaac Herzog hosts delegations from Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity for judicial negotiations at his residence in Jerusalem, March 28, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In response, Tropper noted that in his interviews, he had also stressed the need to make an effort to reach understandings that will prevent national tensions from exploding again, claiming the coalition’s accusations were a “blame game” based on “partial quotes.”

“I won’t stoop down to the level of personal attacks like others are doing. I will just suggest to those who brought the country to the brink of civil war to listen to the words that were said and avoid preaching,” he added.

“Like the coalition supporters, we also have principles: That the government won’t appoint justices on its own. There are conflicting positions, and we must now do everything to reach agreements that will preserve democracy and prevent a rift in the nation. We are focused on dialogue and aren’t too affected by background noises. We are brothers.”

Minutes after Tropper issued his conciliatory message, however, his colleague on the National Unity negotiation team MK Orit Farkash-Hacohen doubled down on Tropper’s initial remark.

She tweeted: “A government won’t appoint judges. Full stop!”

The attorney general has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation — which would give the coalition almost complete control over all judicial appointments, and radically constrain the High Court — would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights or for Israel’s democratic character.

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