Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Wednesday said he was continuing his push to overhaul the judiciary because the current system discriminates against the political right, is “invalid” and “unsuitable” for picking judges, and “unworthy” of a democracy. He spoke as the Knesset prepares to select its two representatives on the judicial appointments authority.
Speaking from the Knesset rostrum, Levin stopped short of saying he would refuse to convene the Judicial Selection Committee — the panel at the center of his judicial shakeup — but bitterly criticized its current composition.
“Many, many of the problems and injustices that we deal with stem from the fact that our judicial system looks the way it does, that the process of selecting judges is done in an unworthy and invalid way — a committee with an unacceptable makeup, which is unsuitable and unworthy of a democratic country,” the justice minister said.
Next week the Knesset will vote to appoint two lawmakers to the nine-member panel, which is chaired by Levin. Levin is said to have told colleagues that he will not convene the panel until he can pass a bill to skew its makeup in favor of the coalition, despite a backlog of about 80 judges that need to be appointed for an overtaxed judiciary.
Levin’s sober delivery on Wednesday contrasted with his vitriolic attacks against the Supreme Court last week, when he said it had been infiltrated by “post-Zionist agendas.”
Yet his message was similarly sharp in tone. Tying his overhaul plan to his criticism of the court and attorney general, Levin said that “it’s completely clear that these same issues we are dealing within in the judicial reform are at the core of the issue, and form the basis of a systemic change that will solve these problems.”
“And that’s exactly the reason why we’re trying to push forward the judicial reform, to create a judicial system for everyone, that everyone can turn to, that will work equally for everyone, that will also obligate the law enforcement system to hold equal policies toward everyone,” he said.
Specifically, Levin accused the Attorney General’s Office of not protecting right-wing lawmakers from aggressive opponents to his overhaul plan, which is facing its 22nd straight week of organized protest.
“Apparently there are things that, in the attorney general’s eyes, are important, namely to thwart judicial reform, and there are things that are not important, namely, to ensure public order or to ensure and maintain the safety of elected officials from one side of the political map,” Levin said.
Various right-wing lawmakers, including the prime minister, have been bombarded by protesters outside their private residences and at public appearances. Overhaul champion MK Simcha Rothman had his car covered in stickers after being heckled out of a talk at Tel Aviv University last week. Rothman also ripped a megaphone from the hand of a protester lambasting him at close range while in New York earlier this week. Rothman called both of these incidents “attacks,” despite the lack of physical violence, and Levin accused opposition politicians of “ignoring…wild incitement and violence.”
Levin further accused the judicial system of “selective enforcement,” saying that anti-overhaul protesters can block highways, while in 2005 the system had acted to crack down on protesters against Israel’s unilateral withdrawal of settlements from the Gaza Strip.
“I would say that it is perfectly fine if the policy is that it is permissible to block roads… but unfortunately this is a new policy that was born for one side’s demonstrations,” he charged, saying that there had been over 6,000 detainees and 600 indictments against protesters of the Gaza disengagement.
“This situation of selective enforcement cannot be accepted, it is unacceptable, it cannot exist in a democratic country, it constitutes abuse and unequal use of the enormous power wielded by law enforcement systems,” Levin said.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in the past six months to demonstrate against the Levin-led overhaul, at times blocking Tel Aviv’s main artery, the Ayalon Highway. Similarly large numbers of reform supporters have congregated and have at times also blocked Ayalon and other roads, although considerably less frequently.