Head of think tank behind judicial push sees dead end for ‘idiotic’ override clause

Moshe Koppel says only Haredi party United Torah Judaism still insisting on keeping measure as part of overhaul package, with his Kohelet forum pushing Levin and Rothman to drop it

Prof. Moshe Koppel receiving a prize in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Prof. Moshe Koppel receiving a prize in Jerusalem on June 4, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The head of a think tank deeply involved in the government’s judicial overhaul said his organization has advised lawmakers to drop their pursuit of a law that would allow the Knesset to override a High Court decision to strike down legislation.

In leaked comments aired by Channel 13 news, Prof. Moshe Koppel, head of the Kohelet Policy Forum, says ultra-Orthodox political interests were responsible for the inclusion of a court override mechanism in the controversial package, and predicts the measure will not become law.

“Our advice to [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin and to [Religious Zionism MK] Simcha Rothman was that the override is completely idiotic,” Koppel is heard telling a small crowd. “We never wanted the override. It was a political matter.”

While it may not be pushing the override, the Kohelet Policy Forum has championed a bill to put key Supreme Court appointments, including its presidency, directly in coalition control. Opponents of the overhaul have drawn a line in the sand on that bill, saying it will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character.

The comments were made during a private talk Koppel delivered in New York for Orthodox organization Aish Hatorah on Wednesday. As he spoke, some 200 protesters demonstrated outside, targeting Kohelet for its role championing the overhaul.

Koppel told the group that he did not see the override bill making it into law, indicating that the governing coalition would have been happy to offer it up in a bargain with the opposition.

“There’s not going to be an override; nobody ever thought there was going to be an override,” he said in the recording. “I am telling you, listen to me, read my lips: There is not going to be an override.”

“Had [National Unity party head] Benny Gantz come the next day and said ‘Get rid of the override, fix up some of the other problems with the other things and we’ll be willing to make a deal with you,’ the override would have been gone in an instant,” Koppel said.

Demonstrators block a highway during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

According to Koppel, the Haredi parties insisted on an override bill because they want to pass a law regulating military draft exemptions for their constituents. Previous such bills that have satisfied Haredi demands have been struck down by courts. He noted that Haredi parties also wanted a way to bypass court intervention on the issue of allowing gender segregation in public places.

He noted that Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party Shas has backed off the override demand, instead lining up behind the passage of a military draft law that is immune to annulment by the court, but senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni has insisted it remain part of the judicial overhaul package.

A person who was present for the talk said the US-born Koppel told the crowd that the upheaval in Israel was keeping him up at night, the New York Jewish Week reported. The person said Koppel had seemed distracted by the protests.

Koppel has already spoken out against aspects of the overhaul.

Last month, he published an article in the Makor Rishon newspaper saying that giving up the override clause in exchange for broad support for other parts of the legal shakeup would be “beneficial,” given the “understandable concern that it will be exploited, and the danger that it will contribute to escalating tensions between the branches of government.”

Prof. Moshe Koppel at a Times of Israel Live event at Jerusalem’s Israel Democracy Institute, December 15, 2022. (Oded Antman/IDI)

He also told students that the override clause was “a stupid idea,” saying there was “an understandable concern that it will be exploited.”

Earlier this month Kohelet published a statement calling for the government to compromise on the overhaul and to consider discarding the override clause.

Kohelet researchers played key roles in developing many of the new government’s policies regarding the judiciary, with Levin citing Dr. Aviad Bakshi, the head of the institution’s legal department, as one of the scholars he consulted in drawing up the far-reaching proposals.

Critics have pointed to the group’s murky funding sources, noting the outsized influence dark money was wielding over Israeli public policy.

The organization has become a target for the anti-overhaul movement. The Brothers in Arms protest group barricaded Kohelet’s Jerusalem offices with sandbags and barbed wire last month.

Koppel was met again on Saturday with protesters who demonstrated outside a synagogue in Englewood, New Jersey, where he was scheduled to speak.

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