At least 4 lawmakers reportedly won't support move

PM doesn’t have the votes to remake judicial selection panel, Likud said to believe

Unnamed official suggests Netanyahu deliberately creating alarm over judge appointments so that bill to overhaul role of legal advisers can be eased through

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference on the planned construction of a new railway line from the northern city of Kiryat Shmona to Eilat, in Jerusalem, July 30, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference on the planned construction of a new railway line from the northern city of Kiryat Shmona to Eilat, in Jerusalem, July 30, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not have the numbers to pass a bill changing the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee, arguably the most far-reaching and controversial measure in the judicial overhaul plan, according to an unsourced “assessment” in his Likud party, cited in Hebrew media late on Monday.

Netanyahu on Sunday indicated to the Bloomberg financial news outlet that he would seek to pass the bill — aimed at bringing the appointment of new judges under near-absolute government control — by November, then shelve the other proposals that are part of the judicial overhaul. The premier said he would work for a compromise with the opposition on the legislation.

Several Likud lawmakers have recently indicated they might no longer allow the coalition to bulldoze further judicial overhaul laws through the Knesset.

“As things stand,” according to the Likud assessment cited by the Ynet news site, Netanyahu would not have the votes to unilaterally remake the judicial selection committee.

In a second report by the news site on Tuesday, an unnamed senior government official said there were four lawmakers who wouldn’t support further unilateral moves, potentially stripping the coalition of its majority if they all voted against, and that others were still undecided.

“It’s not just four who won’t support it,” said the official. “There are others who are deciding if the price is worth it.”

“We do not have a majority to bring the [bill on the] Judicial Selection Committee unilaterally,” the official said. “This is a bigger situation than with the reasonableness [bill].”

“MKs are already saying privately that they will not support this under any circumstances if there is no agreement,” the official said. “It requires broad agreement; that is what is good for the country.”

Many in the coalition questioned why the prime minister would make his remarks about changing the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee, Ynet said, at a time when other lawmakers have worked to lower the flames during the Knesset’s summer recess.

“We have a situation where Netanyahu is purposely blowing up a bigger and more alarming balloon in order to pass the legal advisers bill in a relatively smooth manner, similar to how it happened with the reasonableness law,” an unnamed coalition member told Ynet. (The “reasonableness law,” a Basic Law amendment passed 64-0 on July 24, with the entire 56-member opposition boycotting the vote, prevents judges from reviewing government appointments and decisions based on the doctrine of “reasonableness.”)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, who heads the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, have pushed for a law that turns government legal advisers from professional authorities to discretionary positions of trust, and makes their counsel nonbinding.

The unnamed coalition lawmaker told Ynet that if a moderate version of the legal advisers bill is written up in committee on the basis of agreements reached between coalition and opposition lawmakers during talks at the President’s Residence, it will be easier to pass.

Talks on a consensus for judicial overhaul at the President’s Residence collapsed in June without a final agreement.

File: A protester stands in front of a police water cannon being used to disperse demonstrators blocking the Begin highway in Jerusalem during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul, on July 24, 2023, as the Knesset passed the “reasonableness” law. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“In advance, the understanding in Likud was that the ground was indeed fertile for the reasonableness bill and the legal advisers bill. It is predicted there will be no strong resistance within the coalition against it,” the source said.

Coalition officials said that despite the intense debate, the government will respect any decision made by the High Court when it rules on the reasonableness law, Ynet reported.

The High Court will hear the eight petitions it has accepted against the law on September 12, convening for the first time the entire 15-judge panel for the hearings.

In several recent interviews with US media on the reasonableness law, the prime minister has repeatedly refused to say whether, if the court struck it down, he would adhere to such a ruling, and warned the court against doing so. Other members of his Likud party have said such a ruling would be respected, but would nevertheless cause a crisis.

The High Court has never struck down changes to a Basic Law, though no other Basic Law legislation has ever caused such uproar and division within the public.

Critics of the reasonableness law have said passing such a critical piece of legislation without consensus — with all 56 members of the opposition boycotting the vote — and at a swift pace that did not allow much time for deliberations or review, could and should lead the court to consider taking action.

Before the bill passed, there were nationwide protests against it, vehement opposition from top judicial, security, economic, and public figures, repeated warnings from allies — chief among them the US — and thousands of military reservists vowing to quit serving.

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