With exactly two weeks left in the Knesset’s winter session, on Sunday night the heads of the coalition parties are meeting to debate toning down the judicial reform, even though they were betrayed by President Herzog who ignored numerous compromises that had been submitted for his consideration and came out with a left-biased proposal; also, without any effort on the part of the opposition party to negotiate the details of reform.
Meanwhile, the other side is in deep conflict: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara voiced her objections to the president’s compromise, and the AG is the voice of her mistress, Court President Esther Hayut.
Why, then, should a winning coalition, presenting a very reasonable set of modest amendments to improve the balance between the three branches of government, feel the need to tone anything down – when on paper they have 64 votes in favor of the reform as is, and the other side can’t come up with an alternative they can all endorse?
If you imagine that the impetus to lower the flame on Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s crucial reform has anything to do with the unrestrained anarchists rallying in the streets and blocking major traffic arteries, you’re wrong. The need to water down the reform is being pushed by Likud MKs who have been demoted by Prime Minister Netanyahu to lower posts than they felt they were entitled, and are now taking advantage of the fact that their votes are crucial to avoid a total embarrassment to the PM. The list includes, but is not limited to Likud MKs Yuli Edelstein, Danny Danon, David Bitan, Hanoch Milwidsky, Eli Dallal, and Shalom Danino. There are others: Tourism Minister Haim Katz, Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Israel Katz, and adjunct minister in the Justice Ministry David Amsalem.
Netanyahu stepped on many toes in cobbling together his new government. He was forced to give top appointments to his national religious and Haredi coalition partners. It didn’t gain him much favor in his own party. Members are not ready to rebel openly––today this would still mean political suicide––but they can make life difficult for him, citing the supposed need for a broad national consensus on the reform.
Needless to say, there is a broad national consensus on the reform, it’s been shown time and again that resistance to the proposed legislation comes from Israel’s elite who fear that their last vestiges of power are at stake, and from between 40 and 50 thousand dedicated leftist protesters who are well financed and even directly paid for showing up.
Justice Minister Levin, who just got up from his shiva week for his late father, is expected to be at the meeting Sunday night. Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee Chairman MK Simcha Rothman will also be on hand, presumably to submit a “softer” version of both bills: the one determining the composition of the committee to elect judges, and the one barring the supreme court from annulling basic laws, which are Israel’s equivalent of a constitution, depending on who you talk to.
There are many speculations out there about Rothman’s softened bills, including splitting the rules in the committee to elect judges, so that the coalition gets a majority on the first two, and must negotiate for the next two. As to the court intervening in basic laws, in order for a bill to become a basic law, it must be passed in a fourth vote by the next Knesset, or receive a significantly high third vote in the current Knesset. It sounds needlessly stupid on its face, but those are the rumors.
On Sunday, April 2, four days before the Seder night, the Knesset will officially end its winter session. But serious legislation will be enacted earlier, on or about March 27. Eight days from today. If the coalition heads reach a consensus on the judicial reform-light, the Knesset can vote on it tomorrow.
So far, Minister Levin is insisting that his bills must not be neutered. So, hope is still alive.