The High Court of justice ordered overnight Thursday the transfer of the authority to convene a Knesset plenum to the eldest MK, Amir Peretz (Labor), following the resignation of Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) to obey the court’s instructions. In effect, the justices appropriated the powers of the resigning Speaker of the House, when they determined that Peretz could convene the plenary and run a vote for a permanent Speaker as early as Thursday – and not 48 hours after the resignation according to the House rules.
In the ruling, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut strongly criticized Edelstein’s conduct, stating that in his refusal to comply with the High Court’s initial ruling he committed “an unprecedented violation of the rule of law.”
Following the ruling, Chairman of the Knesset Regulatory Committee MK Avi Nissenkorn (Blue&White), announced, in compliance with Israel’s Supreme Leaders’ instructions, that the committee will convene on Thursday to approve a plenary session to elect a new Speaker. According to Nissenkorn, the committee will meet at 11:30 AM and the plenary vote will be held at 4 PM.
Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) responded to Knesset Speaker Edelstein’s resignation, saying: “Speaker of the Knesset Yoel Yuli Edelstein sacrifices himself with an admirable civic-mindedness on the altar of judicial dictatorship. In his resignation, the Speaker of the Knesset defended Israeli democracy and the crucial independence of the Knesset, and refused to abide by an order over which a black flag is flying. It is a sad day for the State of Israel.”
Former Justice Minister MK Ayelet Shaked (Yamina), who in the past managed to trim the justice system’s talons, on Wednesday night tweeted that “the High Court simply invented a non-existent relief and issued an order to the legislature on how to proceed. It lacks any legal foundation. They bypassed the bylaws, bypassed the law, and bypassed the Basic Law. As we have been taught by the left, democracy dies slowly.”
Justice Hayut, for her part, attacked Edelstein’s decision not to obey the High Court’s ruling and to adjourn the plenary session without holding a vote for his replacement. “There has never been in the history of the state a situation whereby a government entity openly refused to obey a judicial order saying that his conscience does not allow him to uphold the verdict,” she wrote, suggesting that “the harm that his conduct caused the public interest and the rule of law and the keeping of judicial rulings and court orders – there is no limit to its grievousness.”
She added that “this is a state of things that cannot be reconciled, and where such an unprecedented violation of the rule of law has taken place, unprecedented remedies are needed.”
And yet the High Court decided not to punish Edelstein for his sin. The 5-justice panel discussed a petition to convict Edelstein of contempt of court for refusing to comply with its instructions, but in the end decided not to go there, because the situation had been remedied.
During that debate, President Hayut criticized the Speaker, but said he could not be accused of contempt of court: “Absurdly, had his resignation taken effect immediately – there would have been no contempt of court, because he no longer had the obligation to comply. We could have taken a more elegant route, but … well. ”
That was the end of her quote, honest.
Another reason for holding back: were the justices to recommend prosecuting Edelstein, it would have given him an opportunity to respond, with the entire country’s eyes trained on him, and, quite clearly, the injured former speaker would have opened a huge mouth on the High Court that took over the Israeli parliament in a bloodless revolution.