Winning bar contest, Becher spoils coalition hope of controlling judge picks, for now

Victorious new Israel Bar Association chair says his election will go down as ‘an important chapter in the history of Israeli democracy’

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Newly elected head of the Israeli Bar Association Amit Becher at a press conference for the announcement of the election results for the Israeli Bar Association in Tel Aviv, June 21, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Newly elected head of the Israeli Bar Association Amit Becher at a press conference for the announcement of the election results for the Israeli Bar Association in Tel Aviv, June 21, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amit Becher scored a knockout victory over his main rival Efi Nave in the election for Israel Bar Association (IBA) chairman on Tuesday, a result that will in the short term impede the government’s efforts to remake the judiciary.

Becher received 73% of the vote, against just 20% for Nave, with Arkady Eligulashvilli taking 4% and Doron Barziali 3%, according to results published in Wednesday afternoon.

Becher’s party slate for the IBA’s National Council, Hope for the IBA, also scored a resounding victory, taking 16 of the 28 directly elected seats on the panel.

Nave’s One IBA list took just two seats on the council, while the Initiative – Zionist Legalism list, which stridently opposed Becher, garnered three seats. The remaining seven seats were divided up between four other slates.

The results put Becher in a commanding position to determine which two IBA representatives will serve on the key nine-member Judicial Selection Committee, which selects judges to all courts in Israel, including the Supreme Court.

The National Council is comprised of 44 members in total, including the 28 directly elected representatives, along with 12 representatives from the six IBA districts and four statutory members, including the IBA chair himself.

Former Israel Bar Association chairman Efi Nave arrives to casts his ballot for the head of the Israeli Bar Association at a voting station in Tel Aviv, June 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Becher’s party won a massive victory in the Tel Aviv district, giving him another two seats on the National Council.

Becher, therefore, needs the votes of just four other members out of the remaining 25 on the council to secure a majority for his Judicial Selection Committee candidates, which he will likely be able to obtain.

Should he succeed in appointing representatives to the committee who share his anti-reform position, it would deny the government a majority on the critical panel and therefore thwart, at least in the short term, Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s goal of appointing ultra-conservative justices to the Supreme Court who oppose judicial intervention in Knesset legislation and government decisions.

The results will, however, mean that Levin in all likelihood will not convene the Judicial Selection Committee in the short term since the coalition will only have the guaranteed support of three members of the panel.

The outcome of the IBA election will likely give further impetus to Levin’s crusade to pass legislation changing the composition of the committee entirely in order to take control of judicial appointments in Israel.

Voter turnout in the election, the most keenly contested for years owing to the national tensions surrounding the government’s judicial overhaul program, was 50.8% — significantly higher than the 28.5% in 2019.

Newly elected head of the Israeli Bar Association Amit Becher speaks at a press conference where the election results for the Israeli Bar Association were announced in Tel Aviv, June 21, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Yesterday was a historic day for the Israel Bar Association and Israeli democracy,” declared Becher on Wednesday afternoon at a press conference announcing the results.

It was “a victory that is greater than all of us — and which will become an important chapter in the history of Israeli democracy,” he continued, adding that he and his list will “fulfill our duty to protect the rule of law and democracy.”

He also called on Levin to convene the Judicial Selection Committee in order to fill empty spots in courts around the country and add new positions to what is an overburdened system.

Nave, whose recent criminal conviction for smuggling his lover through border control at Ben Gurion Airport dogged him throughout the election, lamented Becher’s win due to his overt political stance against the government.

“As I said throughout the campaign, the political identification is bad for lawyers and bad for the IBA as a professional association,” Nave said on Wednesday afternoon.

“This identification restricts what the IBA can do and turns it into another tool for political attacks in the service of politicians, who will use it to advance agendas which have nothing to do with us as professionals.”

Becher has since the beginning of the government’s judicial overhaul efforts strongly aligned himself with the protest movement against it, and inveighed against Levin and his proposals at rallies against the radical reform program.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin arrives at the Knesset office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nave on the other hand expressed support for legal reform, although he said he opposes “large portions” of the proposals made by Levin, but strongly indicated he could come to an agreement with the justice minister on judicial appointments.

Leader of the opposition and Yesh Atid chair Yair Lapid welcomed Becher’s victory, and told him in a call on Wednesday evening that “lawyers in Israel proved that the liberal camp is stronger than ever.”

Lapid added that “Amit Becher’s victory is a victory for justice, truth and democracy,” and said that he would “continue the fight together for the soul of the State of Israel, for Israeli democracy.”

Levin did not comment on the outcome.

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