Bitton has said charges against Netanyahu are bogus

Levin said to back academic who helped craft overhaul as next Supreme Court chief

Report says Raphael Bitton is coalition’s favorite to succeed Esther Hayut at helm of top court, a move that will first require passage of judicial appointments bill

Raphael Bitton (YouTube screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Raphael Bitton (YouTube screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The coalition’s leading candidate to become the next head of the Supreme Court is an advocate of government’s the judicial overhaul who worked with Justice Minister Yariv Levin to craft the legislation, Israeli television reported Sunday.

According to Channel 12 news, Levin wants to tap Raphael Bitton, a senior lecturer at Sapir College School of Law, to replace Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut when she retires later this year.

Bitton has said publicly that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial was unjustified.

The move is dependent upon the passage of a contentious proposal to give the coalition near-complete control over the appointment of judges. The bill would also allow the coalition to appoint the chief justice, unlike the current system in which the most senior justice is elevated to president.

The network, which did not cite any sources, said Levin’s office did not deny the report when contacted.

Bitton dismissed the report as “complete fake news.”

“No one ever spoke with me and I never spoke with anyone about any appointment to the Supreme Court,” he tweeted.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset plenum on March 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bitton has been a vocal critic of the judicial and legal systems on his Twitter account while hitting out at opponents of the planned shakeup of the judiciary. On Sunday, he called for putting military reservists who threaten to stop serving in protest of the overhaul on trial.

In a 2021 tweet, he claimed that the charges against Netanyahu were unwarranted. “I’ve been teaching criminal justice in a law school for many years and the truth is that I have no idea what the indictment filed against Netanyahu is for,” he said.

Critics charge that one of the main motives driving the overhaul is Netanyahu’s desire to evade a conviction.

Along with his academic post, Bitton is a member of the Globes business daily’s board of directors.

The TV report Sunday came as the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee was due to approve the judicial appointments bill for its final plenum readings. However, the vote was later pushed off until Monday morning following mass protests and fresh political uncertainty triggered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for publicly calling to halt the legislation.

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