Coalition chairman: Government could break up over bill to limit High Court

Netanyahu loyalist David Amsalem says he will not accept Kulanu veto on contentious legislation; ‘We’re ready for elections,’ responds Kulanu MK

Likud MK David Amsalem leads the Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Amsalem leads the Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 11, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coalition chief David Amsalem warned Monday that new clashes within the government over contentious efforts to limit the High Court’s power could lead to its dissolution.

Amsalem said he would not accept a Kulanu party veto — a right it was granted in the 2015 coalition agreement — of a law curtailing the court’s power to override Knesset legislation.

“If that’s how we conduct ourselves with each other we won’t be able to continue, we’ll have to break things up,” he told Israel Radio. “Not just over this crisis. The conduct in general… if that’s how things are conducted, you can see where this will go.

“In the end, there is always a straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Amsalem said. “This is it.”

Kulanu MKs were quick to respond, with one saying “we are ready for elections at any given moment.”

The war of words comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners remain deeply divided over whether, and how, to move forward with the controversial legislation regarding the court.

Coalition officials are considering several options on limiting the High Court’s ability to strike down laws, including a model that would outright prevent it from doing so, while allowing judges to alert the government that certain legislation contradicts Israel’s semi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Another model suggested by the right-wing Jewish Home party would allow the Knesset to bypass the court’s striking down of a law with a simple majority of 61 votes.

A model suggested by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit would allow the High Court to overrule Knesset laws with a majority of six out of nine judges and Knesset members to pass replacement legislation with a majority of 70 out of 120.

The prime minister reportedly rejected the proposal, saying that a Knesset law should only be shot down by a unanimous decision by the judges. Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett also opposed the suggestion, saying it would only encourage the court to declare Knesset laws unconstitutional.

Jewish Home, which holds the justice portfolio, has long campaigned for clipping the wings of what it regards as an overly liberal court. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has succeeded in having several conservative candidates appointed to the High Court bench.

The idea of passing the legislation has gathered steam lately, particularly after the court’s recent ruling blocking deportations of African migrants.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon leads a faction meeting of his Kulanu party at the Knesset on March 5, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

But Kulanu has been resisting such a bill. Its chairman, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, has said repeatedly he would not lend his party’s votes to weakening the High Court.

Kahlon has said, however, that he would support a supercession clause limited to the narrow confines of a deportation bill, as he backs a more aggressive deportation policy for asylum seekers.

“Any solution that relates to the problem of the [African] infiltrators, we will support. All the other whims are simply not on the agenda,” he said.

Netanyahu needs Kahlon’s support to pass any supercession legislation. A meeting Sunday between the two ended without agreement, Hadashot news reported.

Kulanu lawmakers hit back at Amsalem and his party on Monday morning.

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria takes part in Knesset Finance Committee meeting on November 6, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We are acting according to our values, in light of which the coalition agreement was written,” MK Rachel Azaria told Army Radio. “If MK Amsalem wants to open coalition agreements [for negotiations], they will be opened for everyone, including Likud.”

“Amsalem should not use threats. We are ready for elections at any given moment,” she added.

“The public is tired of this spin,” MK Roy Folkman, Kulanu’s faction chairman, told the Ynet site. “Sometimes I think people think the public is dumb. A government cannot be run on whims. You want to solve core issues in Israel? No problem. We should first sit down and talk, and then go to the press and run a campaign — not the other way around.”

Kulanu MK Roy Folkman seen during a faction meeting on July 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu told Sunday’s cabinet meeting that a debate about the proposed High Court override was “very important, very serious, and is being treated as such.”

But, he stressed, “we want to reach balanced and correct solutions to responsibly deal with the challenges of the present and the future.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, April 11, 2018. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch)

The meeting ended without agreement, although Channel 10 News later reported that Netanyahu and Bennett had agreed to form a team of ministers that would examine the possibilities, together with the attorney general and other legal bodies.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan of Likud told Army Radio before the coalition meeting that there was a “serious problem,” and that “the balance between [the judiciary and legislative] authorities has been upset,” with the right of the public to elect its leaders to govern having been undermined by a series of High Court rulings over the past year.

“As a nationalist camp that was chosen many times to lead the country it is our duty to correct and… to make a change in this area, in the balance between ruling authorities. If there is a subject on which it is justified to go to elections, this is the subject,” Erdan told the radio station.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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