Justice minister hails proposed compromise on Israeli Supreme Court reform

Yariv Levin met with four people involved in drafting the compromise proposal.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s Minister of Justice Yariv Levin met on Wednesday with several prominent public figures who drafted a judicial reform compromise proposal to bridge the gaps between the sides.

Levin met with Israeli jurist Yuval Elbashan, high-tech businessman Giora Yaron and former National Security Adviser Giora Eiland, who drafted the proposal. Daniel Friedmann, the former justice minister who was also involved in drafting the compromise, did not attend the meeting.

On Tuesday, Levin had responded favorably to the outline, with sources from the minister’s office reportedly calling it a “breakthrough” and the “first outline that goes outside the box.”

The proposal addresses three key points: appointing judges, striking down normal laws and legislating Basic Laws, considered to have quasi-constitutional status in Israel.

Unlike the government’s proposal, which gives the majority on the Judicial Selection Committee to elected officials of the governing coalition, the compromise calls for a balance, or “tie” between the opposition and the coalition on the committee on judge appointment.

The committee would consist of 12 members: four from the coalition, four from the opposition and four judges. The judges would not have a vote, but would observe and participate in hearings.

Two judges will be appointed at a time—one chosen by the coalition and one by the opposition. Both the opposition and coalition will have one veto per Knesset session over picks for the Supreme Court president. The justice minister will have one veto per Knesset session over an opposition pick.

The compromise also raises the bar for the Knesset if it wants to reverse a Supreme Court decision to strike down legislation. In the current plan, 61 of 120 Knesset members are sufficient to reverse the court and re-legislate a law that has been struck down. The compromise proposal would raise that number to 70.

Basic Laws dealing with human rights will be re-legislated with at least 70 Knesset votes. Eiland said in an Israeli radio interview on Wednesday that one of the main concerns of the protesters is that judicial reform will harm basic rights. Reaffirming Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation will restore confidence. Afterwards, if someone wants to make changes to a Basic Law, it must also be passed by 70 Knesset votes.

To strike down normal laws, the Supreme Court must have a majority of at least 11 of 15 judges, according to the compromise proposal. The government’s original plan included two proposals, one requiring a unanimous vote of 15 and another of a majority of 12 to 13 justices. The coalition later agreed on the 12 to 13 plan.

The compromise proposal maintains the position of the current government plan that government ministers will not be bound to follow the opinion of their legal advisers. It also takes the position of the current plan regarding the court’s inability to declare a prime minister unfit to serve in office, which will only be done by the Knesset plenum according to a system that it will establish.

“Our suggestion is perhaps not the best suggestion, but it is the most achievable,” said Eiland. “In the situation that Israel finds itself, I’m not certain it’s possible to continue to quarrel and fight for months and months. We all see the results.”

Minister Levin and Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman, the two key figures ushering through the judicial reform plan on behalf of the government, had rejected another compromise proposal on Tuesday which Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s office presented. They called it “neutering the legal reform of its fundamental content.”

But they left the door open for compromise. “We will continue our attempts to reach broad agreements just as we have done in recent months,” they stated.

Although the coalition reacted positively to the newest compromise, the opposition condemned it.

Former Minister of Justice Gideon Sa’ar said, “It’s easy to understand why Levin and Rothman like Friedmann’s outline. Politicization of the selection of judges. A high and extreme bar for judicial review. Legal advice that does not bind the government. It’s just hard to understand why some choose to call it a ‘compromise.’ It’s the same lady in Purim finery.”

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