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Coalition moves to advance judicial reform bills before winter Knesset session ends

With only about two weeks until the legislative session ends, the Israeli coalition seeks to move quickly, may amend certain bills

MK Simcha Rotman, head of the Constitution Committee, at a committee meeting at the Knesset, Mar. 19, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With only two weeks left in the Israeli parliament’s winter session, the ruling coalition is expected to move quickly to try to pass several components of its proposed judicial reforms. 

Starting this Sunday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will hold four back-to-back hearings on the judicial selection bill. 

The “legislation aims to amend the Basic Law: The Judiciary to cement government control over judicial appointments,” writes “[The] bill redistributes power on the Judicial Selection Committee, ending the current balance that requires agreement between political and professional representatives and instead creating a majority for coalition and government politicians to push through all appointments. Removing two representatives from the Israel Bar Association, the legislation divides the panel’s nine seats equally between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches, but gives the coalition control of five votes of the nine, and requires only five votes for an appointment.” 

The hearings are designed to prepare the bill for a second and third reading in the Knesset, which are expected by the end of March. 

Local Israeli news reports on Sunday indicated that Knesset Member Simcha Rothman is already discussing possible changes to the judicial selection bill intended to address some of the complaints against it. This follow reports from Israel’s N12 news on Saturday night which stated that Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin was considering making changes to the bill. 

While Levin continues to insist the coalition have an automatic majority in judicial selection, the selection committee may possibly change the proposal to include retired judges who are chosen with the approval of Israel’s justice minister as opposed to representatives of the Israel Bar Association. 

The schedule released by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee did not include any mention of the “override clause,” a bill which to allow “a simple majority of 61 Knesset members to pre-emptively render laws immune to judicial review,” which would expire a year after the Knesset that implemented it dissolved.

The committee’s exclusion of the controversial clause may indicate that it will be considered separately from the current judicial reforms bill. 

However, the coalition is also expected to move ahead with two controversial bills, seemingly designed to protect Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and allow the return of Shas party leader Arye Deri. 

There is a bill, commonly referred to as the “Gifts bill,” to allow Netanyahu to keep the $270,000 he received from his cousin and former benefactor Nathan Milikowsky. Milikowsky died in 2021. 

Last year, the High Court ruled that Netanyahu should return the money to Milikowsky’s estate, because the money constituted an illegal gift. 

The second controversial bill, the “Deri Two” law, would eliminate the High Court’s oversight of ministerial appointments. In January, the court ruled that Deri’s appointments as health minister and interior minister violated the terms of his 2021 plea deal, when he committed to leave the political arena. Deri’s violation of his plea deal led Netanyahu to dismiss the minister from his roles, although he promised to find a solution to bring Deri back. 

With just a two-week period left until the Knesset breaks for Passover, the coalition is expected to try to bring many of these bills to vote. The Knesset breaks for Passover on April 2. 

However, recently, there have been calls from politicians in the coalition to slow down the legislation. 

Last week, Likud Knesset Member Yuli Edelstein skipped a vote on one of the reform bills in apparent protest of the bill. On Saturday night, Edelstein gave an interview with Israel’s Channel 13 news, in which he called to pause the legislation process to allow for discussion with the opposition. 

“To stop the legislation for discussion is something we could have done a long time ago,” Edelstein said. “If you say all the time, ‘We won’t stop for a moment,’ and just bring the reform as it is, you only help enlist more strength to the opposition.”

Meanwhile, Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar on Saturday evening called for compromise but without stopping the reform completely. 

This morning, Likud Knesset Member David Bitan said on 103FM radio, “I think it’s time for Netanyahu to intervene – that’s his job as prime minister – and order a halt to the legislation.” 

Referring to a number of upcoming Israeli holidays that will interfere with Knesset legislative sessions, Bitan said, “There’s no reason why that [halting the legislation] shouldn’t happen.” 

He called for more discussion with heads of the opposing parties but said he will not oppose the legislation if it is brought to a vote as it is. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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