Likud's Bitan calls for halt to legislative process

Coalition heads to hold talks on softening judicial overhaul; opposition: ‘A joke’

Justice Minister Levin to take part in meeting, during which participants will reportedly mull unilateral moderation of bill to give ruling majority control over selecting judges

Coalition party leaders meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, January 22, 2023. (Courtesy: Likud)
Coalition party leaders meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, January 22, 2023. (Courtesy: Likud)

Coalition leaders were due to meet Sunday evening to consider softening their far-reaching plans for overhauling the judicial system, amid continued protests against the measures following the government’s rejection of an alternative framework put forward by President Isaac Herzog.

The meeting was confirmed by a spokesperson for Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a leading figure in the push to upend the judiciary. Levin was expected to attend the talks along with faction chiefs in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition.

The spokesperson did not give any details on potential changes that would be considered. According to Hebrew media reports, the meeting was expected to address alternatives to the current plan for remaking the Judicial Selection Committee, which as it stands would give the ruling majority complete control over appointing judges including High Court justices.

They were also reportedly set to discuss whether to delay the advancement of other bills relating to the overhaul until after the Knesset recesses for the Passover holiday on April 2, or whether to move full steam ahead with the legislative blitz.

The sit-down was scheduled after Netanyahu and others rejected Herzog’s proposal last week, instead pledging to discuss different options to unilaterally moderate the current legislation.

However, it remains unclear how substantive any changes will be, as reports have said Levin is adamant that the coalition have an automatic majority on the Judicial Selection Committee in order to reshape the High Court of Justice.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin (R) speaks during a Shas faction meeting at the Knesset on January 23, 2023. Sitting next to him are Shas chief Aryeh Deri and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition lawmakers dismissed the meeting as a bluff.

“It’s a joke,” National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, a former justice minister, told the Ynet news site. “The government has never [before] controlled the selection of judges. This is extortion by threat.”

Also Sunday, a lawmaker in Netanyahu’s Likud party called on Levin to display a greater willingness to compromise beyond the changes reportedly being considered to the judicial selection panel.

“I think the legislation needs to be stopped at the moment, for the simple reason that we need to discuss it internally and also give it some time; maybe it really will be possible to reach some sort of agreed-upon proposal,” MK David Bitan told Radio 103FM.

His remarks came after Likud MK Yuli Edelstein urged Saturday evening that the legislation be frozen in order to allow discussion with the opposition, and Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar called for some form of compromise.

Meanwhile, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened Sunday morning to prepare the judicial appointments bill for its second and third plenum readings, which it must pass to become law. Far-right Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, the panel’s chair and along with Levin a key architect of the overhaul, said the bill would undergo changes, without elaborating.

“This is the natural process of legislation,” he told fellow lawmakers.

Responding to Rothman, Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharrar indicated that the revisions being mooted by the coalition would not placate opponents of the overhaul.

“Those anxious for Israeli democracy and believe in the Declaration of Independence and its values, that Israel needs to remain Jewish and democratic, will not be silent. It’s too bad you’re leading us to a major rift.”

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, speaks on the phone outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office at the Knesset, March 15, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

According to a schedule sent out Saturday night, the committee does not plan to hold hearings this week on a bill to restrict judicial review and allow for a High Court override mechanism, the other primary plank in the overhaul.

Other legislation set to be advanced this week is a bill to allow Netanyahu to receive donations to fund his legal expenses in his criminal trials; a bill to allow Shas leader Aryeh Deri to return to ministerial office despite a High Court ruling banning him from doing so; a bill to ensure Netanyahu cannot be forced to recuse himself due to a conflict of interest he might have between his criminal trial and the government’s radical legal reforms; and a bill allowing hospitals to stop people from bringing hametz, or leavened goods, onto their premises during Passover, an arrangement previously struck down by the High Court.

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