The High Court of justice ruled on Monday that Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) must reply by 5 PM Monday if he intends to allow a Knesset election of a new speaker no later than Wednesday. While the five judges made it clear that this was not their final decision, they hinted at their expected ruling: not allowing a 61-MK majority to pick the next speaker would constitute a violation of the basic democratic principle of majority rule, a sentiment which came up in Sunday’s court hearing.
The justices also cited the Attorney General’s position that the vote should be allowed as soon as possible, and the Knesset legal counsel’s position that, at most, a short delay of the vote is permissible.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) strongly attacked the High Court’s ruling, saying: “The court has officially taken over the Knesset, and as of today, the High Court has turned the Speaker of the Knesset into a rubber stamp, with the Knesset and the plenary being presided over by the justices. There is no such thing in any other democracy.”
Levin called on Edelstein to announce that only he, the speaker, can decide when the plenum would assemble and what would be on its agenda. “If the court president wants to place herself above the Knesset, she is invited to come to the House with the court guard and open the plenary session herself. This way it would be clear that this is a governmental coup by a handful of justices who elect themselves in secrecy. Perhaps the Supreme Court’s President should for a while give up her aspirations to control the Knesset, and finally be free to convene the court to hear the countless cases that await for months and years for deliberation and decision,” Levin said.
Blue&White said in response: “Mr. Minister Levine, Menachem Begin, your godfather, would have been ashamed of what you wrote. Democracy is democracy, and not only when it’s convenient to you. Respect the majority’s decision and stop harming state institutions.”
Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) responded to the High Court’s ruling, saying: “In one of the most difficult crises since the establishment of the state, the legal system is attempting a government coup in the State of Israel, no less. The judiciary has been trampling on elected democratic institutions for years, and today it also purports to determine the Knesset’s agenda. The Attorney General’s reprehensible intervention in the Knesset’s proceedings has also trampled the principle of the separation of powers and will be remembered in infamy in the annals of the State of Israel.”
“Although I am one of those who support and push for parliamentary oversight during the time of the coronavirus, and very much want to set up the Knesset committees, I urge the Knesset Speaker to ignore the high court’s ruling and stand as a reinforced wall to protect the Knesset’s independence.”
Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) tweeted: “Democracy in Israel is not ‘dead.’ There are those who are trying to kill it, and it’s not the Speaker of the Knesset. Those who appeal to the High Court to sit as the Knesset’s kindergarten teacher, they are the ones who kill democracy. In a democracy, the High Court does not dictate to the Knesset how to conduct itself and does not place itself above the Knesset. Only a sovereign Knesset has the power to decide when it will convene and when to vote in accordance with the law and the bylaws – not the High Court.”
The new Knesset plenum is being convened Monday afternoon to vote on the establishment of the Regulating Committee. After the establishment of the committee, the Likud is expected to filibuster the proceedings to prevent the establishment of the remaining Knesset committees. Ministers were asked to come to the Knesset at around 6 PM, and the MKs at 4 PM.
Within the center-left-Arab bloc, the controversy continues regarding the assignment of committee chairmanships. The Joint Arab List refuses to support the appointment of Israel Beiteinu MK Oded Forer as chairman of the Finance Committee. They say the collaboration with Avigdor Liberman’s anti-Arab party is difficult enough as it is, but they were ready to make the sacrifice in order to establish a minority government without Netanyahu. But they refuse to help Blue&White take control of the Knesset and nominate Forer just for the sake of forming a unity government that will not include the Arabs.