Likud said to pull draft bill proposing to neuter Israel Bar Association

Netanyahu reportedly halts legislation because it would impact contentious judge selection panel; MK Milwidsky on Tuesday requested to pull offending clause

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky attends a Knesset Constitution Committee meeting, March 13, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky attends a Knesset Constitution Committee meeting, March 13, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

A Likud bill to strip the Israel Bar Association of its licensing power, two weeks ahead of the professional guild’s most politically relevant election, was pulled from consideration at Sunday’s upcoming Ministerial Committee on Legislation, reportedly at the behest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sponsored by MK Hanoch Milwidsky, the bill would strip the bar association of much of its authority.

However, on Tuesday Milwidsky sent a letter to Justice Minister Yariv Levin asking to remove a contentious provision pulling the two bar association representatives from the nine-member panel that selects Israel’s judges. The letter was obtained by The Times of Israel.

“Before the Ministerial Committee on Legislation discussion, I ask to remove Section 67 from the bill, touching upon the Judicial Selection Committee,” Milwidsky wrote.

Channel 12 reported on Wednesday that Netanyahu killed the idea of bringing it for a vote, although a source involved with preparing the bill said it was never formally scheduled for the government panel’s Sunday consideration. Milwidsky’s letter to Levin presumed that the bill would be raised on Sunday. However, it does not appear on a draft schedule for the meeting sent out on Wednesday afternoon.

Former justice minister and current opposition MK Gideon Sa’ar nevertheless attacked the bill as “breaking up” the bar association and said it would be an “extreme lack of good faith” to exile bar representatives from the Judicial Selection Committee, as cross-aisle negotiations are ongoing as to the panel’s future composition. Milwidsky is a member of the coalition’s delegation to the ongoing talks.

MK Gideon Sa’ar speaks during a Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee hearing, January 29, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Milwidsky tweeted that the section relating to the selection of judges would be stricken and that the proposal would “remove business and the conflict of interest from the bar and make it what it should be — a voluntary labor union and not a predatory and commercial guild.” He further suggested the bill would put administration of the legal profession on par with that of “accounting.”

Sa’ar and Milwidsky met at the Knesset on Wednesday to further discuss the matter, according to a source close to the issue.

Later in the day, Milwidsky released a statement reiterating his position that the bill was submitted weeks earlier and that he pulled the Judicial Selection Committee clause to “not violate the rules of fair play that we hold in conversations” on making changes to the judiciary.

“It is clear to me that the explanation will not matter in the slightest to those who are interested in blowing up the talks,” he added.

The remaining 70 sections of the bill would severely curtail the bar association’s powers, and transfer some of its most significant authorities to newly created offices.

Proposed under the bill, a to-be-formed Lawyers Council would take over licensing, verification of fitness to practice law, administering the bar exam and sanctioning lawyers for misconduct.

The Lawyers Council, a public body, would be chaired by a former district court judge, directly appointed by the justice minister.

Additional members, all serving a four-year term, would include four non-government lawyers chosen by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, an active district court judge chosen by the Supreme Court president, three government lawyers chosen by the justice minister, two finance ministry representatives and a legal academic.

Israel Bar Association elections are to be held on June 20 between two candidates with opposing views on how to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government and are thus also expected to also have influence over the Judicial Selection Committee.

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