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Sa’ar holds off on tapping new justices after failing to bridge coalition divide

Justice minister says he won’t accept a compromise ‘at any price,’ as panel members unable to agree on four new Supreme Court judges due to political leanings

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar speaks ahead of a vote on his bill limiting prime ministers to eight years in office, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar speaks ahead of a vote on his bill limiting prime ministers to eight years in office, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Gideon Saar announced Tuesday his decision to postpone a meeting of the Judicial Selection Committee due to ongoing disagreements between members of the panel over the future makeup of the Supreme Court.

The committee was supposed to meet Tuesday to choose replacements or four of the nine Supreme Court judges who have either retired or will be doing so in the coming months.

Made up of lawmakers and judges from across the political spectrum, the Judicial Selection Committee members were unable to reach a compromise to move forward with the appointments.

The panel consists of Sa’ar, who heads the right-wing New Hope party; Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is No. 2 in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party; liberal-leaning Supreme Court Justices Esther Hayut, Uzi Vogelman and Yitzhak Amit; Israel Bar Association Attorneys Ilana Seker and Muhammad Na’aman; MK Simcha Rothman from the far-right Religious Zionism Party; and MK Efrat Rayten from the center-left Labor party.

The panel is tasked with filling the seats of Justices Menachem (Meni) Mazuz and Hanan Melcer, who retired in recent months along with the posts of Neal Hendel and George Kara, who will be stepping down next year.

While Shaked and Rothman favor the appointment of conservative justices, the other members of the panel are lobbying for more liberal ones. Sa’ar, who heads the right-wing New Hope party, has been pushing for a compromise, according to the Haaretz daily.

Sa’ar held meetings with the Judicial Selection Committee’s members on Monday in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal, but was unsuccessful.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks a press conference, at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem, on October 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Despite many efforts made to formulate an agreement to elect judges in accordance with the requirement of the law, this has not been successful so far,” Sa’ar said in a statement announcing the decision to delay the meeting.

He stressed his own responsibility to broker a compromise between members of the panel, but clarified that he will not do so “at any price.”

Shaked backed Sa’ar’s decision to delay the meeting.

“A deal that is not good — will not be. The justice minister did right in postponing the committee’s meeting,” she tweeted Tuesday.

Another point of contention is over the Israel Bar Association’s demand that one of the seats be filled by an attorney from the private sector.

There are 24 candidates to fill the four Supreme Court posts, with half of them being district court judges. Other names include senior lawyers in the private sector, in academia, a former chief military prosecutor and a former chief public defender — all spanning the political spectrum.

Among the leading candidates to fill Kara’s seat, which is reserved for an Arab justice, is Tel Aviv District Court Judge Khaled Kaboub. Kaboub would be the first Muslim justice appointed to the court.

Also at the top of the list, and a favorite of Hayut’s, is Judge Ruth Ronen, also from the Tel Aviv District Court.

Labor MK Efrat Rayten (left) and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman. (Flash90)

Jerusalem District Court Judge Gila Kanfei-Steinitz, who is also the wife of Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, is being considered as well.

However, Shaked and Rothman are opposed to tapping all three as the former two are seen as more liberal, while the latter is not particularly conservative.

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