In a stormy session that lasted several hours, the Likud Knesset faction on Monday night approved a softened outline of the judicial reform, to the dismay of many MKs who supported the original bills. MKs Dani Danon, David Amsalem, Moshe Saada, and Moshe Moshe Passal voted against the new outline and expressed their frustration with their party’s decision to retreat under relentless pressure from the leftist mobs.
Yours truly was among the disappointed voices on the right, as I indicated on Monday: “Judicial Reform Gutted, Now It’s Mostly Bills to Save Bibi’s & Deri’s Hides.” I admit I was angry, as I know many of you were as well.
Enter Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who courageously faced his detractors on Channel 14, Israel’s second most popular news channel which is also Israel’s only right-wing news channel (Israel’s Right-Wing Channel 14 Ratings Soaring as Viewers Abandon Left-Wing Propaganda Channels). Levin appeared on Yinon Magal’s high-rating show, The Patriots Monday night, on Zoom, sitting in his Knesset chamber right after the vote.
He started right off with the softened version of the bill to change the composition of the committee to elect judges, which Magal’s panel suggested was a needless and, worse, one-sided compromise: “I have to say that I don’t see it as a compromise, I see it as simply doing the right thing,” Minister Levin said. “When I started with the reform I said clearly, there are things that must be done, but we are open to comments.”
Levin noted that one of the arguments against his reform made sense, namely that “a coalition majority would be free to appoint an unlimited number of judges, and in some cases, the coalition would have exclusive control over the Supreme Court so that all three branches of government would become one.”
At which point I feel obligated to interject: there have been many times in US history, in which one of the two parties controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, and also elected a majority of the Supreme Court Justices. I don’t necessarily think this was good for the country in the long run, but democracy remained alive and the losing side lived to fight––and win––another day.
You may argue that the American system includes lawmakers who are elected independently and not as part of a slate, as is the case in Israel. However, the Israeli proportionate system is extremely heterogeneous, resulting in many, many short-lived coalition governments and mercurial realignments of political powers. Nevertheless, if Minister Levin insists that he wants to share the political wealth, who am I to stop him?
“This claim could eventually lead to a constitutional crisis,” Levin continued. “It is a claim that cannot be ignored, such a thing cannot exist in a democratic country, so we responded to this concern. In each term, the coalition will be able to appoint two judges using its majority – and then a wider consensus will be required.”
Levin added that “in this process, over several years, we will reach a balanced and diverse Supreme Court.”
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE SUPREMES STRIKE IT DOWN?
Regarding the possibility that the Supreme Court would reject his reform, Levin argued: “There is no doubt that the change we made prevents any real claim that could create a constitutional crisis because it is quite clear that the only claim that could stand in this matter––that a random coalition takes over the judicial system––can no longer exist with the new amendment.
“Therefore, there is no justification for such a thing. It would constitute crossing a red line – which we will not accept.
“I hope that as soon as the law is passed and it will be clear that we paid attention to substantive comments but enacted and implemented the mandate we received from the public without fear and without them threatening us or trying to thwart the legislation by any invalid means – this democratic decision will be respected and we will have a fair method for choosing judges.”
THE 4 PRINCIPLES OF LEVIN’S JUDICIAL REFORM WERE ACHIEVED
Levin listed the principles on which the coalition insisted regarding the selection of judges: “First principle – a majority for the coalition in the committee. This is fulfilled in the text of the bill that will be passed in a third reading next week. Another principle – an end to the judges’ veto right, which allowed them to absolutely prevent the appointment of a judge to the Supreme Court who does not come from their milieu. For the first time, the coalition will have the option in each term to appoint two judges without a veto that allows the judges on the committee to prevent their appointment. This will create the diversity we want in the High Court. Third principle – the removal of the representatives of the Bar Association from the committee, who were always in cahoots with the judges in what constituted an outrageous conflict of interest.”
Levin was referring in his third note to the fact that lawyers were in fact selecting the very judges they would face in court, from Magistrate through District to Supreme. This resulted in the disturbing social homogeneity of the Supreme Court, whose members come from the same strata as the senior attorneys that picked them.
“The fourth principle – we put an end to the seniority system (whereby the next Supreme Court President is the longest serving member – DI). The committee will choose the President of the Supreme Court in such a way that not the judges decide who would be president, but we, as elected officials, will choose someone acceptable to us with our mandate from the voter,” Levin added, and concluded: “All these things are the fundamental principles of the reform.”
As to those insane, but sadly very popular claims on the left that despite the softened judicial reform, Israel is headed for dictatorship (over the appointment of two judges, that’s some feeble democracy – DI), Levin said: “Our goal is to diversify the judicial system, to balance it. The goal is not to take over and not try to make the judicial system political or things of that nature. Most of the intimidations out there are completely baseless.”
But of course, that’s what a guy who wants to start a dictatorship would say, those mad people in the streets would tell you… In the end, this right-wing government must utilize its political power to plow through in the next Knesset session (starting after Independence Day), and pass a heftier chunk of the judicial reform. Is it more important than, say, preparing for war against a nuclear Iran, you might ask? The answer is, yes, because there’s no telling how much more damage and divisiveness are going to come out of the current Supreme Court; but I’m ready to compromise: in the morning work on the judicial reform, take a lunch break, and in the afternoon do the Iran thing.
THEY WASTED 2 MONTHS ON COALITION AGREEMENTS
Or, as Justice Minister Levin put it Monday night on News 14: “I am committed to completing the reform in full and according to the basic principles I established at the beginning of the journey. We will pass the law regarding the committee for the selection of judges by the end of this session. We will be in a completely different reality in the legal system in less than two weeks.
“After this law is passed, there will be a short break – 30 days, following which we will continue and advance the legislation on the other components of the reform. I have to say frankly – during the coalition negotiations, I pleaded with the heads of the parties to complete the negotiations quickly because I knew the two months that were wasted on long negotiations would be missing from our schedule to be able to complete this legislation during the current session.”
Well, frankly, the reason those coalition negotiations took this long has to do with the same reason Levin’s own negotiations to become Justice Minister took very long: nobody trusted Bibi not to pull a fast one on them, which he has always done, so the demanded every last itzy bitzy detail down on paper, and even then he messed with them.
“It was impossible to do things faster because we adhere to an orderly procedure. Everyone understands that with such important laws, it is good that things will be this way, so I say most clearly – immediately after Independence Day we will renew and continue to promote those elements that we did not manage so far.”
We are with you, Minister Levin. See you after Yom HaAtamaut!