High Court rejects opposition’s petition against makeup of Knesset committees

Judges say claim that parliamentary panels are too heavily weighted in favor of coalition doesn’t justify judicial intervention

Members of Knesset, during the Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Members of Knesset, during the Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice rejected Monday a petition filed three months ago by six opposition lawmakers against the makeup of Knesset committees, which they claimed were unfairly balanced to the coalition’s advantage. The court ruled that the matter does not justify judicial intervention.

The petition by four members of the Likud party and two members of Shas had asked to cancel a July 12 decision by the temporary Knesset Arrangements Committee that formed and set the makeup of the permanent parliamentary committees, arguing that the decision gave coalition members disproportionate control.

Since then, the court pushed for the two sides to resolve the dispute themselves and some changes were made to provide opposition MKs with greater representation. However, opposition lawmakers continued to boycott many Knesset committees in protest of their composition, though some called to rethink the strategy. With the rejection of the petition, the boycott was set to end.

The court found that in view of the “high threshold for interference in decisions of internal parliamentary matters — the remaining difficulties with regard to the composition of the committees do not justify judicial intervention.”

A panel of three judges, headed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, criticized the coalition for only agreeing to change the composition of committees after the court had pressed it to do so, but also panned opposition parties for not putting forward their lawmakers to sit on the committees.

Opposition parties had “disconnected from their duty to represent the interests for which they were elected to the Knesset,” the court found.

The justices noted that past High Court intervention in Knesset matters was meant to ensure the continuation of the proper democratic process, such as when parties were prevented from calling a vote of no-confidence or a lawmaker was blocked from presenting a bill.

Attorney Ilan Bombach, representing the lawmakers who filed the petition, said that in its decision, “the court clarified the limits of its intervention in the actions of the legislature.”

Those limits, he said, “will also be used by us in petitions in which the coalition changes position and petitions” against the opposition.

Following the court ruling, the Shas party said chairman MK Aryeh Deri had selected MK Ya’akov Margi to become a member of the Knesset Jewish Religious Services Committee, and MK Yinon Azoulay would sit on the Knesset Finance Committee.

Head of the Shas party MK Aryeh Deri with Likud MK Yariv Levin during a meeting of the right-wing parties, in the Knesset on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The petition was filed by Likud MKs David Bitan, Miri Regev, Keti Shitrit, and Fateen Mulla along with Shas lawmakers Moshe Arbel and Michael Malchieli. It did not come from the entire Likud party, many of whose members do not believe the court should have a say in the Knesset’s work.

Likud faction chairman MK Yariv Levin, who had opposed filing the petition in the first place, nonetheless slammed the ruling in a statement.

He said the court ruling was “worthless” and that the judges “broke another record of disgrace and cynicism” for taking three months to rule on the petition.

Levin noted that a petition filed by parties seeking to replace the Likud government earlier this year regarding the position of Knesset speaker was ruled on by the High Court within a week, but “when the rights of the right [wing] are being trampled they have all the time in the world.”

Levin charged that the court delayed ruling on the committees to give coalition parties enough time to move the state budget through various Knesset forums without opposition and prepare it for parliamentary readings. The government must beat a November 14 deadline to pass the budget in the Knesset or new elections will be called.

“Now that the voting in the Finance Committee is over, with unparalleled cynicism, they remember to give a verdict,” he said.

Likud MK Miri Regev in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on August 2 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud’s Regev echoed Levin’s accusation of High Court bias, saying “petitions from the left it honors and embraces, but petitions for the right it silences, not to say shreds.”

Coalition parties responded in a statement saying the court had done well to “not intervene in Knesset work” and invited opposition parties “to take their places in the committees, as many of their members want.”

In July, the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee had approved the makeup of the parliament’s 11 permanent committees without the opposition’s agreement. A week later, the Knesset House Committee approved the establishment of four new permanent committees. Opposition parties had complained at the time that they were not chairing any of the key Knesset committees.

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