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Israeli opposition rejects coalition’s reform compromise proposal

“You are burning a country in vain, you are boycotting an elected government in vain,” responded Knesset Law Committee chair Simcha Rothman.

From left: Opposition party leaders Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, Benny Gantz of National Unity, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Merav Michaeli of Labor and Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List (Ra'am) hold a joint press conference in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
From left: Opposition party leaders Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, Benny Gantz of National Unity, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Merav Michaeli of Labor and Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List (Ra'am) hold a joint press conference in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Israeli opposition leaders on Monday rejected a new judicial reform proposal by the ruling coalition that would revise the procedure for appointing justices to the Supreme Court and delay other parts of the program.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman on Sunday evening put forward a compromise plan for choosing justices that was accepted by the coalition in the overnight hours.

Under the revised proposal, the Judicial Selection Committee would have 11 members, including six from the ruling coalition—three ministers and three coalition MKs—the Supreme Court president and two other justices, and two MKs from the opposition.

The first two Supreme Court openings during a government’s tenure would be chosen by a majority of six members of the committee. Any opening after the first two would require approval by eight committee members including a justice and a member of the opposition.

This change to the Judicial Selection Committee is set for passage by the end of the current session of the Knesset on April 2, before the start of Passover.

The coalition on Monday said that other related pieces of legislation would be halted until after the legislature’s Passover recess, and would be revisited at the start of the summer session.

If the judicial selection bill passes into law, the ruling coalition will have two opportunities to choose new justices unopposed due to the six-member majority rule for the first two justice openings. This is because Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Anat Baron will retire in October at the judges’ mandatory age of 70.

Also under the bill, the coalition would be able to choose the next president rather than having it determined by seniority as is currently the case. Under the current system, the court’s Deputy President Uzi Vogelman would succeed Hayut.

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman leads a meeting of the panel, Feb. 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The revised proposal was given a cold reception by the opposition.

“The coalition’s latest proposal is a blueprint for a hostile political takeover of the judicial system. This is not a committee to select judges, this is a committee to select cronies, and this is exactly what they planned from day one,” opposition leader Yair Lapid posted to his Twitter account.

“Taking over the committee for selecting judges is bringing destruction into the Halls of Democracy—one must not fall for the Likud’s nightly spin,” Labor Party chief Merav Michaeli said on Twitter.

“There is neither ‘compromise’ nor ‘softening’ here. This was the primary goal from the beginning. The first stone in the wall of democracy they are trying to knock down. The protest must not be stopped. This hostile takeover must not be allowed,” she wrote.

Rothman on Monday morning, in his opening remarks at a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting, called on opposition members to tell their leaders to sit down and talk.

“The proposal we’re presenting comes after the total refusal of the opposition to engage with us,” he said. “We’re extending our hands to them once again. There are another 50 days until the legislation moves forward [after the recess] and that’s plenty of time to discuss and debate. We will be able to return after the recess united for Remembrance Day.

“Stop, you are burning a country in vain, you are boycotting an elected government in vain,” Rothman said.

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