Knesset to elect Judicial Selection Committee MKs but Levin unlikely to convene panel

With no agreement yet over judicial overhaul, justice minister will almost certainly not convene the committee despite the pending retirement of Supreme Court President Hayut

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

Illustrative: A meeting of the Judicial Selection Committee at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on February 22, 2017, with justice minister Ayelet Shaked, chief justice Miriam Naor, finance minister Moshe Kahlon and members of the committee (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: A meeting of the Judicial Selection Committee at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on February 22, 2017, with justice minister Ayelet Shaked, chief justice Miriam Naor, finance minister Moshe Kahlon and members of the committee (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The election of two MKs to the critical Judicial Selection Committee will go ahead within the next month despite earlier coalition plans to push off the vote in order to give itself more time to pass its controversial plan to obtain a majority on the panel.

Although the committee will technically be able to convene after the lawmakers are elected by secret ballot, authority to convene the panel and appoint judges rests with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is unlikely to do so before legislating a change to the committee’s composition that will give the coalition greater control over the process of choosing judges.

On Monday morning, opposition MK Ze’ev Elkin boasted that the opposition had scored a victory over the coalition by forcing it to back down on efforts to postpone the election of the lawmakers, leading Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs to threaten that two coalition MKs would be elected to the committee instead of one from the coalition and opposition, as is customary albeit not obligatory.

“The first victory over the Judicial Selection Committee,” tweeted Elkin, adding “The coalition capitulated and the elections will not be postponed this time.”

Fuchs responded saying “I in my innocence thought the representatives of your party in the dialogue in the President’s Residence were coming with a real will to come to agreements on changing the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee and not in order to ‘beat the coalition,’ and now the cat is out of the bag.”

Representatives of the coalition and the opposition had been meeting under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog to negotiate a compromise on the contentious judicial overhaul plan, after the government put its legislative efforts on hold at the end of March

Added the cabinet secretary: “Don’t worry, without agreements in the negotiations two coalition representatives will be elected to the committee and it will be convened only if the justice minister wants to.”

Then Minister of Housing and Construction Zeev Elkin speaks at a conference of the Israeli Construction Center in Tel Aviv on October 20, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Herzog then weighed in, issuing a statement in which he implicitly rebuked Elkin for his victory lap.

“The president repeats his call to avoid expressions whose purpose is political and which do not contribute to reaching broad agreements,” the president’s office stated.

“He also emphasizes that the State of Israel is at the most important and critical moment. It is easy to blow up the negotiations but the price will be too heavy to bear. It is more challenging and difficult to reach agreements, but this is unequivocally in the best interests of the State of Israel, and with a joint effort, understandings can be reached.”

Cabinet secretary Yossi Fuchs arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Fuchs subsequently deleted his tweet threatening to elect two coalition lawmakers, and thanked Herzog for his mediation efforts.

Under the current law, the Judicial Selection Committee comprises two government ministers, two MKs, three Supreme Court Judges, and two members of the Israel Bar Association.

A regular majority is needed to elect a lower court judge and a majority of seven out of nine members required to elect a Supreme Court judge, meaning that neither the coalition, opposition or judiciary has a majority on the panel and that both the government and the judiciary have a veto over Supreme Court appointments.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin addresses a rally in support of the judicial overhaul plan he is spearheading, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on April 27, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot)

The main purpose of the government’s centerpiece judicial overhaul bill is to guarantee that ruling coalitions have an inbuilt majority on the committee in order to take control over the judicial selection process.

Under Knesset regulations, the Knesset must elect its two representatives four months after a new Knesset has been elected but the coalition postponed this vote owing to its efforts to radically overhaul the Judicial Selection Committee first and then convene the new panel.

The new deadline was set for June 15, and the coalition would have needed to act this week in order to further postpone it.

Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut is set to retire in October and usually a replacement would be elected before that date.

Once the committee has its full complement of members it could technically meet to replace Hayut, but Levin is highly unlikely to convene the panel without the ability to control that appointment.

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