Yesh Atid lawmaker Karine Elharrar was voted onto the Judicial Selection Committee Wednesday, satisfying a key opposition demand during negotiations over the government’s reform package.
Concurrently, the coalition voted down the candidacy of Likud Party MK Tali Gottlieb, who had defied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by refusing to bow out of the race.
Elharrar won the support of 58 MKs and was opposed by 56. Gottlieb was backed by 15 MKs and opposed by 59.
The surprise result, which leaves one space open on the Judicial Selection panel, followed a day of intense political maneuvering. Until all members have been selected, the committee cannot convene.
The nine-member Judicial Selection panel is responsible for appointing judges at all levels of Israel’s civil court system, and its composition had become a major sticking point in negotiations over the coalition’s proposed judicial reforms package.
Traditionally, one coalition candidate and one opposition candidate are chosen to fill the seats reserved for parliamentarians. Coalition hardliners had preferred not to appoint a committee member from the opposition, favoring two members from the coalition. Opposition members had threatened to call off negotiations had their candidate not been approved.
Entering the day, it was believed that two candidates would be appointed, one representing the coalition and a second, Elharrar, representing the opposition.
As part of their coalition agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised the coalition’s spot on the committee to Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit Party. Otzma’s candidate was MK Yizhak Kroyzer.
In order to guarantee votes in favor of Elharrar and Kroyzer, Netanyahu had ordered other coalition members vying for the position to withdraw their candidacy ahead of the vote.
Yet Gottlieb, a member of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party insisted on maintaining her candidacy.
As the Judicial Selection Committee vote is by secret ballot, with Gottlieb on the list, Netanyahu was therefore unable to enforce coalition discipline and guarantee that both Elharrar and Kroyzer would win the votes.
Recognizing that he risked angering the opposition or members of his own coalition with three candidates on the ballot, Netanyahu attempted to use a legal technicality to delay the appointments just ahead of the scheduled vote.
Shortly before the vote, Netanyahu asked Kroyzer to withdraw his candidacy, leaving only Elharrar and Gottlieb on the ballot. Then Netanyahu instructed coalition members to vote against both candidates, ensuring neither would receive the required plurality.
According to Knesset bylaws, if a seat on the committee is not filled, a new vote must be scheduled take place within the next 30 days. Netanyahu had hoped the respite would give him time to solve the brewing crisis.
Yet in a surprise, several members of Netanyahu’s coalition voted together with the opposition to approve Elharrar’s candidacy. And while the opposition’s demand of Netanyahu has been met, it was accomplished without the premier’s overt support.
Furthermore, despite Elharrar’s appointment, the committee cannot convene until the final appointment is made. Following the vote in favor of Elharrar, it is believed that Netanyahu will quickly schedule a new vote to approve a final appointment representing the coalition.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said Wednesday night that he was putting the reform negotiations on hold until the second member of the committee is chosen.
Negotiations to reach a consensus on the reforms were launched in March under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog after Netanyahu vowed to postpone the controversial judicial reform legislation in order to give dialogue a chance. Netanyahu postponed the legislation following mass protests that essentially shut down the country.
Members of the opposition have consistently threatened to break-off the talks and return to the streets if their demands are not met.
“Once Netanyahu was a fraud and strong. Today he’s a fraud and weak,” said Lapid during a joint press conference Wednesday night with National Unity Party head Benny Gantz.
“Without a committee, there are no talks,” he added.
For his part, Gantz said there was “no reason” to continue the negotiations at present.
“What happened is that the prime minister decided to go against the country. He tried and failed,” said Gantz.
Opponents of judicial reforms have vowed to continue their public protests following Wednesday’s vote.
In a video posted to Twitter earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu had urged the opposition to compromise.
“Gantz said yesterday that if the coalition elected two representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee, he would blow up the reform talks. Well, that didn’t happen, but he continues to threaten,” said the premier.
“So, I say to the opposition: Stop the threats, stop the excuses after three months of rejecting every proposal we bring; Sit down with us seriously, enter into a real dialogue and we will finally reach agreements.”
In addition to the two parliamentary selections, the other members of the Judicial Selection Committee include the president of the Supreme Court and two other sitting justices, two members of the Israel Bar Association, as well as the justice minister and another Cabinet minister selected by the coalition.
Changes to the overall makeup of the selection committee are part of the coalition’s judicial reform initiative. Proposed legislation would also restrict the ability of judges to apply undefined standards of “reasonableness” when overturning legislation, and limit the legally-binding authority of the Attorney General as well as government ministries’ legal advisers.
Supporters of the reforms say they seek to end years of judicial overreach by a homogenous left-wing activist court that routinely overturns legislation and executive actions, and essentially selects its own successors.