Coalition officials recently sent a message to MK Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party saying they prefer to support their candidate for the committee to appoint judges over Yesh Atid’s candidate, MK Karine Elharrar, Reshet Bet Radio reported Wednesday morning. The same officials urged Gantz to put forward a suitable candidate.
Those of us who followed the debates on the Judicial Reform in the Knesset Constitution Committee, remember MK Elharar as confrontational, aggressive, and quite nasty in her frequent and often loud exchanges with Committee Chair Mk Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism). The chairman, who was often impatient with opposition members and threw out after three warning those of them who would show up only to filibuster the proceedings, was forced to be more forgiving with Elharar, who is coping with muscular dystrophy and is restricted to an electric wheelchair. This turned every occasion when Rothman expelled Elharar into a prolonged, slow procession of the MK riding her chair out, sometimes by still issuing slurs.
And so, naturally, the coalition would rather negotiate with anyone, but anyone, in Gantz’s faction, and not have to deal with Lapid’s agent of slow-rolling chaos.
The candidates will likely be MKs Pnina Tamano-Shata, Yehiel “Hili” Tropper, and Matan Kahana. One of them, Kahana, who served as Minister of Religious Services in the previous government, would reportedly prefer to be the opposition’s representative on the committee to appoint rabbinic judges. But his candidacy would likely be met with staunch resistance from the national-religious camp.
A number of national-religious as well as secular municipalities went to court to reverse Minister Kahana’s rampant appointments of women to religious councils as if men were out of style. In Tzoran-Kadima, a secular municipality, they even went to court to reinstate the Shas-affiliated appointee. In Efrat, the municipality managed to reverse Kahana’s appointment.
Should a compromise not be reached regarding the reform of the committee to appoint judges, the old makeup of the committee would remain in place: 2 Government Ministers, 2 MKs, 2 Members of the Bar, 1 Supreme Court President, and 2 Supreme Court Judges.
Each judicial appointment requires seven votes, which means that the coalition would have a hard time imposing its candidate on the committee, but at the same time would be able to veto candidates it dislikes. Even dropping the opposition member, which has been done quite often in the past, would only give the coalition 4 votes – a solid veto but no advantage.
Indeed, even if by some miracle both members of the bar side with the coalition (which isn’t going to happen, both front runners for chairperson of the bar already said as much), they’d still be short one.
It stands to reason that should a compromise not be reached in the negotiations at the president’s residence, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would refuse to pass the bill to reform the committee by a majority vote of 64, then Justice Minister Yariv Levin would have no option but to delay the committee meetings rather than accept a candidate for the Supreme Court he doesn’t like.
This could result in some mayhem: Court President Esther Hayut is retiring in October so that without a new appointment, the court would be down to 14 members. Also: it isn’t clear whether Hayut would be replaced based on the seniority system.
In Israel, all the judges save for Supreme Court judges are appointed by the Justice Minister based on the recommendations of a search committee. Only in the Supreme Court is the next court president the judge who was appointed just before the president (in most cases).
Many Israeli jurists argue against the seniority system in the Supreme Court, which they say turns the institution of the search committee into a rubber stamp – once again endowing the judges with powers to which they aren’t entitled by law.
But will Yariv be able to voice his opinion in a civic environment in which brutal anarchists decide policy? In the end, it’s all up to Netanyahu, whose Chess pieces move in mysterious ways.