Despite broad Likud backing for Yamina MK and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked to join a key parliamentary committee that chooses Israel’s judges, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly working to thwart her appointment, warning that the move could cause a coalition crisis.
According to a Channel 12 news report Tuesday evening, Netanyahu’s associates have told Likud’s coalition partners that selecting Shaked as the opposition representative for the committee could have severe consequences, including the calling of new elections.
Several Likud MKs have reportedly agreed to support Shaked in Wednesday’s secret ballot, in an effort to keep the judicial nominations under the control of the Knesset’s right-wing members.
Under a 2002 law, the committee that appoints Israel’s judges is composed of nine members: three Supreme Court justices, two representatives of the nation’s lawyers (chosen by the Israel Bar Association), two representatives of the government (the justice minister and another cabinet minister), and two representatives of the Knesset (traditionally one from the coalition and one from the opposition).
Crucially, seven votes are required to confirm a judge. In practice, the three-member Supreme Court delegation holds a veto on nominations to the court, as the three justices have never divided their votes.
The majority coalition in the Knesset also holds a veto, with two cabinet ministers and at least one MK. But with current Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of the centrist Blue and White party heading the committee, backing Shaked is the only way to ensure that the right-wing has the power to block appointments.
Initially, Likud and Blue and White had agreed for the opposition position to be replaced with a rightist member of Blue and White, but dropped the clause from the coalition agreement after Supreme Court criticism.
Earlier in the day, coalition chairman Miki Zohar tweeted that Likud would support Shaked as the opposition representative on a committee for appointing religious judges.
In recent years, right-wing lawmakers have accused Israel’s justice system of interventionist judicial activism, as pioneered by Aharon Barak, chief justice of the High Court from 1995 to 2006. During Barak’s tenure, the Supreme Court torpedoed a series of Knesset laws it deemed unconstitutional.
Shaked, of the right-wing Yamina party, has frequently spoken out in favor reining in the High Court or changing the makeup of the justices to incorporate more conservative views.
As justice minister from 2015 to earlier this year, Shaked pushed for widespread judicial reform to weaken the powers of the Supreme Court, and had hoped to continue after the election. In the most comprehensive and deep-cutting plan put forward by any of the right-wing parties running, Shaked, before April’s election, promised a “legal upheaval” to dismantle the court’s judicial oversight over parliament and, at the same time, give the Knesset full power to appoint judges.
In 2017, she secured three conservative and non-activist judges out of four new appointments to the Supreme Court, putting a large dent in what is seen as a liberal-dominated bench.
During coalition negotiations that formed the current unity government, Shaked warned Netanyahu against appointing Nissenkorn as justice minister, saying that it meant “the left will take control over the committee for appointing judges.”
“In the upcoming term, at least four justices will be appointed to the Supreme Court. This is a historic opportunity to formulate a conservative majority,” she wrote in a Facebook post at the time.
For the Israeli right, the Supreme Court represents the old left-leaning political elite, a bench of like-minded figures that it is determined to replace.
The left and opposition politicians fear that shifting the court’s ideological makeup will threaten Israeli democracy, upturn the system of checks and balances and leave open key issues that the fractious Knesset is unable to resolve, such as those pertaining to civil liberties, religious freedom and the rights of Palestinians.