ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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PM said inclined to reject Levin’s plan to deny the opposition a judicial panel spot

In vote Wednesday, Netanyahu reportedly unlikely to give the coalition both of the 2 committee seats reserved for MKs, a move that would likely sink Herzog-brokered reform talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 28, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ahead of a key vote this week to choose the two Knesset representatives on the Judicial Selections Committee, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly expected to support having one coalition MK and one opposition MK on the panel, as has been customary.

However, Justice Minister Yariv Levin was continuing to advocate appointing two coalition representatives, according to a Channel 12 news report Saturday evening. Such a move would scuttle the ongoing judicial reform negotiations with the opposition. Control of the committee is central to the government’s plans for overhauling the judiciary.

The report said that Netanyahu has been holding consultations on the matter in the run-up to Wednesday’s vote, including a three-hour meeting Saturday with Levin at the premier’s Caesarea home. The prime minister indicated he would back appointing an opposition MK to the panel over the justice minister’s objections, the network added.

Channel 13 news had a similar report on Netanyahu being expected to back having both an opposition and a coalition lawmaker sitting on the panel, and noted that he was unlikely to say so publicly due to pressures from within his hardline coalition.

A separate report by the Haaretz daily said Levin and other coalition figures agreed to having an opposition representative on the committee in exchange for setting the day of the vote as a deadline for the ongoing negotiations at the President’s Residence. Netanyahu reportedly rebuffed this proposal, however.

The newspaper also said that Levin had not come out against having a seat on the Judicial Selections Committee go to the opposition when he previously discussed the issue with Netanyahu.

Opposition leaders have pledged to break off the talks if they do not receive a spot on the committee or if the government advances the overhaul legislation.

The coalition’s representative on the panel is expected to be MK Yitzhak Kroizer, whose far-right Otzma Yehudit party was promised a place on the nine-member committee in its coalition deal with Netanyahu’s Likud. The opposition is backing Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharrar.

This composite photo show Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharrar (L) and Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Kroizer.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A primary plank in the government’s push to remake the judiciary is a bill that would reshape the Judicial Selection Committee and hand the government an automatic majority. The committee appoints all judges, including Supreme Court justices.

The reports came as several Likud MKs said over the weekend that the plans to change the panel’s makeup were now likely to be shelved.

Last week, Levin said he was continuing his push to overhaul the judiciary because the current system discriminates against the political right, is “invalid” and “unsuitable” for picking judges, and is “unworthy” of a democracy.

The justice minister is said to have told colleagues that he will not convene the Judicial Selection Committee until he can pass a bill to change its composition, despite a backlog of about 80 judges that need to be appointed for an overtaxed judiciary.

That bill is on the cusp of being passed into law and can be brought for its final, back-to-back votes in the Knesset plenum at a moment’s notice. However, such action is almost sure to lead to a resumption of intense public opposition, as was seen before the legislation was frozen.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets the past six months to demonstrate against the Levin-led judicial changes, at times blocking Tel Aviv’s main artery, the Ayalon Highway. Large numbers of supporters of the government’s plans have also rallied and occasionally also blocked roads, although with far less frequency.

Israelis lift banners and national flags as they protest the hard-right government’s controversial judicial reform plans, in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The judicial legislation has been frozen since late March, when Netanyahu said he would halt the plans to allow for talks with the opposition aimed at finding a broadly accepted compromise for judicial reform.

But months of talks have not produced a breakthrough, and pressure has increased within the coalition to resume the legislative push. The opposition, as well, has faced calls to withdraw from the negotiations.

Critics say the overhaul will sap the High Court of Justice of its power to act as a check and balance against parliament, eroding Israel’s democratic character and leaving minorities unprotected. Supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in what they see as an overly activist and intrusive court system.

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