MK Rothman sent to New York to explain judicial shakeup to wary US Jews — report

Religious Zionism lawmaker officially in US for release of former secretary of state Pompeo’s book, but will reportedly meet with American Jewish groups fearful of reforms

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair MK Simcha Rothman leads a committee debate, in Jerusalem, January 17, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair MK Simcha Rothman leads a committee debate, in Jerusalem, January 17, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Far-right Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman has been sent to New York by the government to hold a series of meetings with US Jewish leaders to ease their concerns over the coalition’s planned judicial overhaul, according to a Wednesday report.

Rothman, who is head of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, officially flew to New York on Tuesday for the launch of former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s book, “Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love.”

The Kan public broadcaster said his unofficial mission is to meet with American Jewish groups that are increasingly alarmed by the new Israeli government’s judicial overhaul that critics say will undermine the country’s democracy.

Rothman was dispatched even though he will miss significant votes in the Knesset because the coalition views the effort as important, the unsourced report said.

The trip came days after the head of North America’s largest Jewish federation issued rare criticism of the Israeli government and its proposed judicial legislation, and “implored” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the effort.

In an email sent Friday to supporters of the UJA-Federation of New York, its CEO, Eric Goldstein, wrote that he was “alarmed by the recent legislation” that would significantly weaken the judiciary and give lawmakers control of judicial appointments.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, center, and other justices at a hearing of the High Court of Justice on petitions against the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister due to his recent conviction for tax offenses, January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prominent American Jewish lawyer Alan Dershowitz, long a staunch defender of Israel’s policies on the international stage, said earlier in January he cannot defend the sweeping judicial reforms planned by the coalition, telling Army Radio he would join protests against the judicial restructuring.

The proposals presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin would severely limit the High Court’s capacity to annul laws and government decisions with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

Rothman has put forward his own bill, which diverges from Levin’s proposal in that it sets out a different Judicial Selection Committee makeup, would not alter the process for appointing the Supreme Court president, requires unanimous agreement among all 15 Supreme Court justices to strike down a law, and presents a more narrow curtailment of the “reasonableness” judicial test.

Advocates of the shakeup say the court is overly interventionist and subverts the will of the electorate.

Levin’s proposals have drawn intense criticism, even from longtime proponents of judicial reform, and have sparked weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, private companies and other bodies.

Over 100,000 people demonstrated against the overhaul in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, with thousands more at other demonstrations including in Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba.

Hundreds of economists on Wednesday warned the move could have grave ramifications for the economy.

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