Panel head churns through judicial appointment objections; opposition: ‘Dictator’

Far-right committee chair Rothman aims to get through thousands of reservations to planned judicial overhaul, amid heated protests; Knesset legal adviser called in to restore order

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, right, during a committee meeting at the Knesset  in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Simcha Rothman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, right, during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee descended into pandemonium again on Sunday with chairman MK Simcha Rothman seeking to power through thousands of votes on objections to the judicial overhaul legislation filed by opposition MKs by the end of the day.

The committee hearing, which was expected to take many hours due to the massive volume of objections, came against the background of a rebellion in the ruling Likud party after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called for a pause to the legislative blitz, which could potentially stymie its passage in the Knesset plenum later this week.

After the yelling reached new heights, the Knesset legal adviser was brought in to restore order. She gently told opposition MKs they could not indefinitely hold up proceedings while asking Rothman to show “a little more moderation” in his handling of the votes.

The bill would give a governing coalition likely-complete control over lower court judicial appointments and heavy influence over the majority of appointments to the Supreme Court.

The government insists the bill is critical to rein in what it sees as an overly activist court, while the opposition and the wider protest movement says the law would undermine the independence of the judiciary and violate the separation of powers.

Rothman, anxious to expedite the voting process due to the imminent Knesset recess starting April 3, sought to blitz through the objection votes but was assailed by opposition MKs who accused him of running roughshod over Knesset protocol.

The Religious Zionism MK refused to allow time for opening statements for committee members, which can often take over an hour, or time to explain the objections filed against the legislation, leading the opposition MKs to break out into chants of “Dictator” as they banged on the table.

Rothman expelled numerous MKs from the committee room, but they restarted the chanting when the chairman allowed them back in for the votes as required by law.

Opposition MKs Karine Elharrar, Yoav Segalovitz, Gilad Kariv, and Ofer Cassif, who have been present in the nearly three months of committee hearings, exploded with anger on numerous occasions as Rothman rushed through the votes, often without providing a moment to allow anyone present to check what was being voted on.

On one occasion, Kariv objected that he did not have enough time to even turn the pages on his objections list to check which objection was being voted on, with Rothman responding laconically “your problem,” as he continued to call for votes in favor and against.

MK Gilad Kariv is taken out by Knesset guards during a Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Segalovitz, Cassif, and Kariv were repeatedly ejected from the hearing for interrupting the voting process and speaking without permission, each time denouncing Rothman and the legislation on their way out.

On some occasions, opposition MKs complained their votes had not even been properly counted in Rothman’s headlong rush to complete the process.

Eventually, following numerous demands by opposition MKs to Rothman and committee legal adviser Attorney Gur Bligh, the hearing went into recess while Knesset Legal Adviser Sagit Afik was brought in to adjudicate.

“There is a fine tension between taking time [over the votes] and disrupting the voting process. You have used the right to file objections well, but you cannot disrupt the voting in a severe manner,” she ruled.

Afik turned to Rothman and added delicately, “I request from the chairman a drop more moderation.”

She also noted that although opening remarks were traditional, Rothman was entitled to skip over them if he wished, but recommended that time be made for some remarks during the course of the day.

“You can eject MKs but I request that you allow them to come back in not just for the votes,” she told Rothman, but said to the opposition MKs, “I request that you not endlessly troll him without allowing votes to be held.”

Knesset Legal Adviser Sagit Afik seen during a Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rothman strenuously objected to the opposition’s tactics, saying the shouting made it impossible record a proper protocol.

“This is not ‘taking time,’” he fumed. “I don’t recall a vote during which MKs banged on the table and gave speeches. This behavior is unacceptable.”

Segalovitz in turn denounced Rothman’s conduct as committee chair. “What has happened here this morning is unprecedented and disgraceful,” stormed the Yesh Atid MK.

“Rothman doesn’t allow the MKs to take advice from the committee’s legal advisers, and is crassly trampling all over them and us. He’s not [even] allowing proper vote counts. The thuggishness and ambush that Rothman is carrying out is a total disgrace to the Knesset and to this disgraceful government.”

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