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‘Putsch’: High Court pans Likud MKs’ petition over ‘unfair’ Knesset panel makeup

Sides given 2 weeks to reach agreement; Chief Justice Hayut points out that the opposition party as a whole objects to judicial activism and therefore opposes the petition

A High Court discussion of a petition by opposition lawmakers against the makeup of Knesset committees, in Jerusalem, August 9, 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)
A High Court discussion of a petition by opposition lawmakers against the makeup of Knesset committees, in Jerusalem, August 9, 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)

The High Court of Justice on Monday discussed a petition filed by some lawmakers for the opposition Likud and Shas parties against the makeup of Knesset committees, claiming that some parties were not getting their fair share of representation.

A judge said during the discussion that the lawmakers’ request was akin to an attempt at a “putsch.”

The court concluded that it would delay its decision and give the opposition and the coalition two weeks to sort out their differences via negotiations.

Last month, the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee approved the makeup of the parliament’s 11 permanent committees without the opposition’s agreement. A week later, the Knesset House Committee approved the establishment of four new permanent committees. Opposition parties had complained they were not chairing any of the key Knesset committees.

The opposition has attempted to block the formation of the Knesset committees at every opportunity, in what is seen to be an effort to prevent debates on the state budget, which the government, sworn in in June, has until early November to pass.

The petition was filed by Likud MKs David Bitan, Miri Regev, Keti Shitrit and Fateen Mulla along with Shas lawmakers Moshe Arbel and Michael Malchieli. It didn’t come from the entire Likud party, many of whose members don’t believe the court should have a say in the Knesset’s work.

During Monday’s High Court discussion, Chief Justice Esther Hayut said the fact that the petition was filed by individual lawmakers rather than parties poses a difficulty.

“Likud has a negative opinion about this petition,” she told the plaintiff’s lawyer Ilan Bombach. “The true litigant opposes this petition.”

Bombach answered that “Likud is an ideological party and it has principles. They think this matter isn’t justiciable but agree with the general position regarding the committees.”

Members of the Knesset House Committee vote to establish a swath of new parliamentary committees, July 25, 2021. (Knesset)

Justice Uzi Vogelman slammed the plaintiffs over the fact that they had boycotted the very vote they were now petitioning against, indicating that the issue should be resolved within the parliament.

“You want to essentially bypass the Knesset,” he challenged Bombach. “Boycotting the vote and then petitioning, it’s a sort of putsch. The Knesset says the internal parliamentary procedures haven’t been completed. There should be caution in the judicial overview of the parliament. Why shouldn’t we let it finish its internal process?”

Bombach then read out a note by Bitan saying that there are currently no negotiations regarding the committee makeup.

However, the Knesset’s legal adviser said during the hearing that the discussions within the parliament over the matter haven’t been exhausted.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem on July 6, 2021. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar denounced as “baseless, precedential and dangerous” what he said was an “attempt by opposition Knesset members to involve the High Court in the disagreements between the coalition and the opposition over the makeup of Knesset committees.”

The step “should be seen as part of the opposition’s attempts to delegitimize the government, which is in power thanks to a parliamentary majority,” Sa’ar said, adding that the petition could potentially “harm both the parliament and the judiciary.”

Halel, a Likud forum that opposes judicial activism, said in a statement that while the committee makeup approved by the coalition was “illegal and a terror attack against democracy,” what was even more dangerous was “intervention by the High Court in parliamentary decisions by the Knesset.”

“It is very saddening that such a boomerang petition has been filed by Likud lawmakers. It should be noted that the four MKs who petitioned only represent themselves, not the Likud movement or the Likud party,” it added.

Coalition whip Idit Silman of the Yamina party at the Knesset House Committee, July 25, 2021. (Knesset)

In a letter to Likud faction chair Yariv Levin last month, coalition whip Idit Silman of the Yamina party said the opposition had been offered the chairmanship of four permanent committees and two special committees, as well as five deputy chair positions in the various committees.

The only remaining argument between the sides, she said, was the opposition’s  demand that the sides have an equal number of members on the Economics Committee, and reducing the advantage the coalition has over the opposition in the Finance Committee from two lawmakers to one. Silman told Levin that the opposition’s last demands could not be met.

Then-Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin at the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Levin in response said that Silman had “a lot of nerve” sending such a letter.

“First, they offer an extremely unfair offer, then moderate the unfairness a bit and present it as a compromise,” Levin said.

“It is impossible to accept a situation in which Likud receives minimal representation in the central [Knesset] positions, while completely distorting the election results and the composition of the Knesset, only because the coalition is comfortable producing an artificial majority for itself, especially in preparation for the budget,” he added.

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