The Knesset on Wednesday elected a pair of conservative coalition lawmakers to represent the parliamentary body on the Committee to Appoint Judges in what was seen as a victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Likud MK Osnat Mark and Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser beat out former justice minister Ayelet Shaked of the opposition’s Yamina party, who had sought a seat on the committee. While all three lawmakers represent right-wing, conservative parties, Mark is a loyal defender of Netanyahu, while Shaked is seen as more independent and does not enjoy warm relations with the premier’s family.
Hauser won 67 votes, Mark 57 votes, and Shaked 47 votes.
The judicial appointment committee consists of nine members: the Supreme Court president, two other Supreme Court justices, two ministers (Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn who chairs the panel, and Transportation Minister Miri Regev), two MKs and two representatives of the Bar Association.
Crucially, seven votes are required to confirm a judge. In practice, the three-member Supreme Court delegation holds veto power on nominations to the court, as the three justices have never divided their votes.
Traditionally, one of the two MKs is a member of the opposition, but the Likud-Blue and White coalition deal promised the opposition post to Hauser.
The Derech Eretz MK promised in a statement after the vote to appoint judges who are “advocates of justice and truth, judges who understand the importance of the separation of the powers in a democratic state and the importance of mutual trust between those authorities and the entire public.”
Mark thanked Netanyahu and those who supported her in the secret ballot. “The task at hand — a struggle over the nature of our judicial system, the separation of powers and the identity of the sovereign. It will not be easy, but the intensity of the difficulty is matched by the intensity of the importance,” she said.
Last month, Mark said she would seek to appoint judges “with a worldview close to that of Likud,” without elaborating further as to what that means.
A source in Derech Eretz told Haaretz that Hauser’s election reflects the conservative line that currently controls the Knesset. “The committee will have liberal representation in a Blue and White minister along with three judges in addition to conservative representation in Mark and Hauser,” the source said.
Shaked was also defeated in the Knesset’s election of representatives for the rabbinical judges appointing committee. Labor MK Merav Michaeli edged out Shaked by one vote thanks to support from opposition lawmakers, the Blue and White party and possibly even Netanyahu, who she was seen talking with moments before the vote.
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Michaeli will be joined by Yisrael Eichler from the United Torah Judaism Party.
Elected to the Muslim Qadi appointing committee were Shas’s Michael Malchieli along with the Joint List’s Osama Saadi and Mansour Abbas.
For the right, the Supreme Court represents the old left-leaning political elite, a bench of like-minded figures that it is determined to replace.
In recent years, right-wing lawmakers have accused the justice system of interventionist judicial activism, as pioneered by Aharon Barak, chief justice of the High Court from 1995 to 2006. During Barak’s tenure, the Supreme Court torpedoed a series of Knesset laws it deemed unconstitutional.
Shaked, of the right-wing Yamina, has frequently spoken out in favor of reining in the High Court or changing the makeup of the justices to incorporate more conservative views.
As justice minister from 2015 until earlier this year, Shaked pushed for widespread judicial reform to weaken the powers of the Supreme Court, and had hoped to continue after the election. In the most comprehensive and deep-cutting plan put forward by any of the right-wing parties running, Shaked, before April’s election, promised a “legal upheaval” to dismantle the court’s judicial oversight over parliament and, at the same time, give the Knesset full power to appoint judges.
In 2017, she secured three conservative and non-activist judges out of four new appointments to the Supreme Court, putting a large dent in what is seen as a liberal-dominated bench.
During coalition negotiations that formed the current unity government, Shaked warned Netanyahu against appointing Nissenkorn as justice minister, saying that it meant “the left will take control over the committee for appointing judges.”
The left and opposition politicians fear that shifting the court’s ideological makeup will threaten Israeli democracy, upturn the system of checks and balances and leave open key issues that the fractious Knesset is unable to resolve, such as those pertaining to civil liberties, religious freedom and the rights of Palestinians.