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Netanyahu, on trial for corruption, says Israel needs judicial reform

Likud MKs petition High Court over appointment of 61 judges by panel during meeting they boycotted; PM says he doesn’t want elections, but says Likud will win if vote held

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, December 2, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset, December 2, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, on Monday said Israel needs judicial reform, as lawmakers from his party petitioned the High Court of Justice over the appointments of dozens of judges.

The Judicial Appointments Committee convened Sunday evening and selected 61 new judges, despite three coalition lawmakers boycotting the meeting over the planned nomination of two Arab justices they accuse of anti-Zionism, and claiming — apparently mistakenly — that the panel could not legally convene without them.

“I think that most of the public understands that we need serious reform of this system; it can’t continue,” said Netanyahu at a Likud faction meeting, noting the absence of right-wing representatives on the panel and the short amount of time designated to each candidate during Sunday’s meeting.

He added: “Today, we don’t have the majority necessary to do so, but I hope we will soon.”

Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who lowered her face mask to speak, during a press conference at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem on July 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The committee, which is in charge of appointing all of the country’s judges, has nine members, including three sitting members of the Supreme Court, the justice minister, another minister, two lawmakers and two senior members of the Israel Bar Association.

While Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of the Blue and White party participated and chaired the meeting, the other minister in the committee, Transportation Minister Miri Regev of Netanyahu’s Likud party, publicly boycotted it along with lawmakers Osnat Mark of Likud and Zvi Hauser of the small Derech Eretz party, which broke away from Blue and White.

Regev and Mark skipped the meeting in protest of the planned promotion of Abbas A’asi from the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to the Jerusalem District Court, claiming that in many past decisions he has repeatedly ruled against the military and police when sued by Arabs or other minority groups.

The two Likud lawmakers petitioned the High Court of Justice on Monday against the appointments.

Justice Minister Nissenkorn, in a tweet, said sardonically: “I was moved to hear the deep concern expressed at the Likud faction meeting by the prime minister and Likud ministers on the appointment process. If those people were truly concerned for the public, maybe Israelis would have public servants and law enforcement officials appointed, a functioning ministerial panel, and maybe even a state budget, heaven forfend.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nissenkorn was referring to the held-up appointments of a state attorney and police commissioner at Likud’s behest, as well as the ongoing crisis over the budget. The justice minister also stressed that all the judicial candidates were thoroughly vetted before the meeting.

The sparring over the judicial system was the latest fight between coalition partners Likud and Blue and White, which appear poised to dissolve their partnership and head to early elections over a fight on the state budget.

The prime minister on Monday said he opposes going to early elections, a scenario that appears increasingly likely as a bill to dissolve the Knesset has earned the backing of Blue and White and is gradually making its way through the legislative pipeline. If approved, it would be Israel’s fourth national election in two years.

“I hope we can avoid elections, but if Blue and White insists on dispersing the Knesset, we will win,” said Netanyahu.

He again stressed the need for judicial reform. “We are determined, we are unified, and we must make the change,” he said.

Netanyahu is facing charges of fraud and breach of trust in three cases and bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing, and claims the allegations have been fabricated as part of an attempted political coup involving the media, opposition, police and state prosecutors.

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