Amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, Justice Minister Yariv Levin is seeking to appoint a pair of Supreme Court judges as part of the government’s efforts to weaken the judiciary, Israeli television reported Sunday.
According to Channel 12 news, Levin told members of the Judicial Selection Committee that he will back the appointment of Justice Isaac Amit as the court’s next president in exchange for supporting two candidates of his choosing.
Under the seniority system in which chief justices have traditionally been chosen, with the most veteran jurist on the bench elevated to the top spot, Amit is slated to be the Supreme Court’s next head judge following the retirement of president Esther Hayut last month.
Levin, however, has refused to convene the judicial selection panel to choose a new chief justice, leading to Justice Uzi Vogelman taking over as temporary president. Remaking the committee to give politicians greater control over the selection of judges and scraping the seniority system are key to Levin’s far-reaching plans for overhauling the judicial system.
The TV report, which did not cite a source, said the two candidates that Levin is pushing are Kohelet Policy Forum legal scholar Aviad Bakshi and legal scholar Raphael Bitton, who were influential in formulating the proposals to shake up the judicial system.
The network previously reported that Bitton, a senior lecturer at Sapir College School of Law, is Levin’s preferred candidate to be the next Supreme Court chief.
Levin denied Sunday’s report, which came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised the coalition will not address matters unrelated to the fighting in Gaza as a condition for the National Unity party’s entry to the government last month.
“Over my dead body,” Amit Bechar, head of the Israel Bar Association and vocal opponent of the overhaul, said in reference to Levin’s reported push to appoint two Supreme Court judges.
The Kaplan Force protest group also denounced Levin, accusing him of “sticking a knife in the backs” of reserve soldiers fighting in the Gaza Strip and urging members of the Judicial Selection Committee not to play ball with his “extortion attempts.”
“The coup that Levin has led over the past year ripped the nation to shreds,” the organization said. “He will forever be remembered in disgrace as the person who tried to destroy Israeli democracy — and failed.”
Levin announced last week that he will convene the judicial panel on November 16, after facing pressure from the Supreme Court over his months-long refusal to assemble the committee.
The committee will only deal with procedural matters when it meets later this week and not judicial appointments, since it can only deliberate on candidates for the courts if their candidacy was published in the official state gazette 45 days in advance.
Petitions to the High Court of Justice requesting it order the justice minister to convene the panel were set to be heard earlier this month, but the hearing was postponed after Levin announced that he would be holding a meeting within 15 days.
Appointing conservative judges has become a cornerstone of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul program, which Levin sought to accomplish by radically changing the composition of the committee through legislation in March that would have given the government almost complete control over almost all judicial appointments.
The justice minister has refused to convene the committee throughout his time in office, stating openly that he wants to give the government greater control over the panel before making appointments.
The petitions against him argued that he does not have the discretion to refuse to convene the committee based on political and legislative motivations, especially when there are numerous unfilled positions on courts around the country.
Levin argued in response that only he has the right to convene the committee and that the court has no authority to order him to do so.