ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Likud MKs say plans to skew judicial selection panel in coalition’s favor ‘shelved’

Remarks come ahead of Knesset vote this week to select two lawmakers to committee, with the ruling party’s Danino saying he’s ‘convinced’ an opposition MK will be appointed

L-R: Likud MKs David Bitan, Yuli Edelstein, and Shalom Danino in the Knesset in 2022 and 2023. (Flash90, File)
L-R: Likud MKs David Bitan, Yuli Edelstein, and Shalom Danino in the Knesset in 2022 and 2023. (Flash90, File)

Several Likud MKs over the weekend suggested the government would no longer advance plans to alter the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee in its favor.

On Wednesday, the Knesset will vote to appoint two lawmakers to the nine-member panel, which is chaired by Justice Minister Yariv Levin of Likud. The coalition has threatened to take both spots on the panel, breaking with tradition.

The makeup of the judicial selection panel is central to the coalition’s ongoing efforts to greatly increase political control over the judiciary. A key bill in the overhaul plan would reshape the committee and hand the government an automatic majority, giving it the power to determine most judicial appointments.

But several MKs from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party said those plans were likely to be scrapped.

“Automatic majority for the coalition in the Judicial Selection Committee? Shelved. I heard the prime minister, the justice minister, and the chairman of the constitution committee, and everyone understands that it is over,” MK Yuli Edelstein said during an interview on Channel 12 on Friday.

At a cultural event in Tel Aviv on Saturday, MK David Bitan said he agreed with Edelstein’s assessment.

“As soon as we create a situation where we have an absolute majority in the Judicial Selection Committee, the question arises what will happen when we are in the opposition, will we have one [representative] out of 10 or 11?” Bitan said.

“I believe that Netanyahu will go for one representative for the opposition and one representative for the coalition,” he added during a separate event on Saturday.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a cabinet in Jerusalem on May 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Fellow Likud MK Shalom Danino said he was “convinced” there would be an opposition representative on the judicial selection panel.

“I undertook great efforts to stop the legal legislation, I sat down with members of the opposition… there should be representation for the opposition on the Judicial Selection Committee. I am convinced that it will be so,” Danino said at a cultural event in Beersheba.

Levin said this week 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 is “unworthy” of a democracy.

The justice minister is said to have told colleagues that he will not convene the judicial selection panel until he can pass a bill to change its makeup, despite a backlog of about 80 judges that need to be appointed for an overtaxed judiciary.

That bill is on the cusp of being passed into law and can be brought for its final, back-to-back votes in the Knesset plenum at a moment’s notice. However, such action is almost sure to lead to a resumption of intense public opposition, the likes of which was last seen before the legislation was frozen.

Opposition leaders have said that if the coalition does so, it will signal the end of the compromise talks under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog.

Protesters gather for an 11th straight week of protests against the government’s controversial judicial overhaul bill in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets the past six months to demonstrate against the Levin-led judicial changes, at times blocking Tel Aviv’s main artery, the Ayalon Highway. Similarly, large numbers of overhaul supporters have congregated and have at times also blocked Ayalon and other roads, although considerably less frequently.

The judicial legislation has been frozen since late March, when Netanyahu said he would halt the plans to allow for talks with the opposition, aimed at finding a broadly accepted compromise for judicial reform.

But months of talks have not produced a breakthrough, and pressure has increased within the coalition to resume the legislative push.

Netanyahu said last month, following the passage of the state budget, that “of course” the overhaul was now back on the government’s agenda. Later that day, however, he added: “We will of course continue with our efforts to arrive at a broad consensus agreement, to the extent possible, on the issue of judicial reform.”

Critics say the overhaul will sap the High Court of Justice of its power to act as a check and balance against parliament, eroding Israel’s democratic character and leaving minorities unprotected. Supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in what they see as an over-intrusive court system.

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