A 9-judge panel of the High Court of Justice on Sunday ruled, at the end of a five-hour hearing, that the “Teveria Law” (Tiberias) will not apply in the upcoming mayoral elections in that city and the head of the caretaker committee, Boaz Yosef, a relative of former Interior Minister and Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri, will not be able to run.
The High Court ruled that the “Teveria Law” will apply only starting in the 2028 municipal elections. According to the law, the chairman of the caretaker committee, or any of its members, is allowed to run in the city the committee governs without a cooling-off period, except for this election. (Mah Nishtana, why is this election different than any other election?)
The law which the coalition recently amended was intended to prevent members of caretaker committees from running in the cities which they had been appointed to govern temporarily. On January 13, 2020, Minister Ze’ev Elkin decided to remove then-Teveria Mayor Ron Cobi and disperse the city council, replacing them with a caretaker committee.
The attorney representing the Knesset argued that “the law returns the legal situation to what it was in 2008. We find difficult the claim that what was constitutional until 2008 is suddenly unconstitutional. There is no new basic law on this matter. The Knesset should decide. In 2008, the situation called for changing the law, and the Knesset decided to change it. Now, the Knesset decides to reverse the situation.”
Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut replied: “The law is personal because it is tailor-made for the elections in Teveria. The law is personal in terms of its timing, it is tailored because there is one person who enters this slot. Some MKs said as much. The legal counsel for the Knesset thought that due to the very significant difficulties of changing the rules of the game and the problem of personal legislation, the law should only apply in the following elections, but the MKs decided otherwise, explicitly stating that it is required now because of Teveria.”
Justice Alex Stein, who is among the court’s more conservative members, asked: “If the head of a caretaker committee suddenly decides to run somewhere other than Teveria, does it matter?”
The AG’s representative, attorney Sharon Rotshenker, replied: “No, because the arrangement was intended to regulate a specific case. The MKs agreed that the rules of the game should not be changed during the game, they were simply wrong about when the game started. They made a mistake. Because of this, it must be determined that the law will only apply from the following elections.”
The author of the “Teveria Law,” MK Amit Halevi (Likud) on Monday sharply criticized the High Court’s ruling, telling Reshet Bet Radio: “Yesterday we saw a spectacle of the court that showed it can easily run over a law of the legislator. Don’t side with one camp, listen, discuss, don’t slap. The law was seriously debated in the Knesset, the public decided and the High Court decided that it didn’t suit them. What is illegitimate about a law that existed for 50 years in the State of Israel?”
On its face, this may be a reasoned debate between the high court and the ruling coalition, juxtaposing the candidacy of a man who has run the city well since his appointment vs. the appearance that the law which forbids caretaker committee members from seeking office in the municipality which they rescued was amended to serve a specific person.
But in reality, Sunday’s ruling was the first encounter between the Supreme Court and Netanyahu’s coalition government since the passing of the law amending the reasonability clause. The court will debate petitions against that law, as well as petitions calling to find Netanyahu incapacitated, disregarding the new scope of the incapacity law which has just been enacted.
In that context, we can consider Sunday’s decision to be Justice Hayut’s shot across the bow, telling the elected PM his protective legislation may not protect him at all.
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who is not a rubber stamp supporter of the judicial reform, said on Radio Kol Barama that “If the judges of the High Court of Justice reject the Reasonability clause, it is a declaration of war and I hope there will be no intervention. This is a decision that will lead to a constitutional crisis that we will not know how to get out of.'”