Knesset law committee to begin votes on judicial overhaul legislation in coming days

Opposition MK Kariv calls for strike to protest swift advancement of contentious legal reforms; Natan Sharansky warns of ‘demagoguery,’ erosion of human rights

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee MK Simcha Rothman leads a committee hearing, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee MK Simcha Rothman leads a committee hearing, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government’s contentious judicial overhaul legislation is swiftly advancing toward its first reading in the Knesset plenum, after a coalition lawmaker announced on Monday that voting on the bill in committee will begin by early next week.

Although opposition members of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where the legislation is being prepared, could delay the advancement of the legislation by several days by submitting reservations, it will likely be voted out of committee and brought for an initial vote in the plenum in the next two weeks.

The bill would then be returned to the committee for further preparation before the second and third votes in the plenum to pass it into law.

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair, MK Simcha Rothman, informed its members on Monday night that the committee will begin voting on aspects of the legislation either this Wednesday or next Monday.

Lawmakers will first vote on parts of the legislation that deal with the composition of the judicial selection committee and bar the High Court of Justice from exercising judicial review over Basic Laws.

This means that the remaining aspects of the bill will likely be split off and advanced separately. The other parts of the legislation include the proposals to severely restrict the High Court’s power of judicial review over legislation; allow the Knesset to override a High Court decision to strike down legislation; make legislation immune from judicial review at the beginning of the legislative process; and prevent the court from using the principle of reasonableness to assess administrative decisions by the government and other state agencies.

The legislation is being passed as an amendment to the Basic Law: Judiciary, meaning the High Court would not be able to strike it down in the likely event that petitions are filed to the court against the new law.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv argues during a hearing of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, January 31, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition members of the committee reacted furiously to Rothman’s announcement that the legislation will move forward in the next week.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv called for worker strikes and mass protests against the speedy advancement of the legislation.

“We are coming to the movement of truth. The coalition of destruction and corruption will bring the legislation on appointing judges to a first reading [in the Knesset plenum] in the coming days,” he tweeted.

“This is the time to go from protests to strikes. In schools, in businesses, at cultural events. This is the time for demonstrations of a million citizens. This is the time for tens of thousands of people to come and demonstrate outside the Knesset on the day of the vote,” Kariv said.

Earlier on Monday, former minister and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky called on the government and the opposition to accept President Isaac Herzog’s proposal to freeze the legislative process and set up a forum to come to a compromise agreement.

Former Jewish Agency head Nathan Sharansky and then incoming Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog at an event welcoming some 300 new immigrants from France on a special ‘aliyah’ flight organized by the agency, at Ben Gurion Airport on July 23, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I believe that President Herzog’s proposal should be accepted as a matter of urgency and used as a platform for negotiations,” Sharansky wrote in a Facebook post.

Sharansky also reprimanded both sides of the debate for vitriolic rhetoric over the issue, which he said is creating even greater polarization.

Sharansky criticized one of the major pillars of the proposed reforms — the plan to create a High Court override whereby the Knesset would be able to re-legislate laws struck down by the court for violating rights laid out in Israel’s Basic Laws with a majority of just 61 MKs.

“Who and how will protect human rights? The claims ‘we were elected, we will protect’ is demagoguery. Democracy is two things simultaneously — majority rule and undeniable rights of the person which any majority cannot deny,” said Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who was imprisoned for his political views.

Sharansky said for the Knesset to override basic rights with a majority of 61 MKs, the bare minimum for a governing coalition, would be an “absurdity.”

“The Knesset must have the last word on political decisions. And the Court on decisions related to human rights,” Sharansky said.

Several minor changes have been made to the draft bill in recent days, including a provision guaranteeing that at least one member of the opposition will be on the Judicial Selection Committee.

The panel will however include five members appointed by the ruling coalition.

The justice minister, who will chair the judicial selection committee, will also appoint two retired judges to serve on the panel “with the agreement of the Supreme Court president,” a clause which further limits the influence of the judicial branch since currently, the Supreme Court president alone chooses two other Supreme Court justices to sit on the committee.

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