PM aide: We’ll remake the Judicial Selection Committee, shelve rest

Cabinet secretary: Coalition will seek opposition agreement on main bill in the judicial remake; if no deal, will politicize entire panel, with each bloc getting half the delegates

By TOI STAFF Today, 6:47 am

File: Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked together with Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, former finance minister Moshe Kahlon, and other members of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at a meeting of the committee in the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem, February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90/File)

A top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that the coalition plans to pass legislation remaking the Judicial Selection Committee in the fall parliamentary session — arguably the most far-reaching element of the planned legislative package — and then will shelve the remainder of its radical and divisive judicial overhaul package.

Cabinet secretary Yossi Fuchs echoed the message reportedly given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to US President Joe Biden last month on the eve of the Knesset vote that passed the first piece of overhaul legislation — a law barring the courts from using the reasonableness yardstick when adjudicating government and ministerial decisions.

Netanyahu told Biden that while he wasn’t able to secure consensus support for that first law, as initially promised, he would work to galvanize such backing for the rest of the package. Last week, Netanyahu gave the opposition until November to agree to compromise terms, implying that he might otherwise proceed unilaterally.

Fuchs asserted Wednesday in an interview with the ultra-Orthodox Mishpacha magazine that the government would seek a compromise with the opposition on remaking the judicial appointments panel. However, if it does not succeed in bringing the opposition on board, Fuchs said, it will simply restructure the committee so that half of its representatives would be from the coalition and half of its members would be from the opposition. Such a move would completely politicize the committee; it would also leave a loophole in which a party broadly supportive of the coalition could formally sit in the opposition and gain representation on the committee, thereby essentially giving the coalition full control.

Legislation that gives the coalition almost complete control of the committee, and thus of appointing Israel’s judges, passed its first reading in March, was suspended by Netanyahu, but could be passed at short notice at any time.

The current makeup of the panel features three High Court of Justice judges, two representatives from the Israel Bar Association, two representatives from the government and two representatives from the Knesset, with one of those traditionally being from the coalition and the other from the opposition. Seven of the committee’s nine votes are required to appoint a High Court justice; in practice, this means the coalition and the judiciary must agree on High Court candidates.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem during a vote on the coalition’s ‘reasonableness’ bill, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has been refusing to convene the Judicial Selection Committee until legislation to remake it is enacted.

The High Court is to hear petitions against his delaying tactic in September.

In his interview with Mishpacha, Fuchs cited consistent polling showing that 78 percent of the public supports splitting the spots of the Judicial Selection Committee evenly between the coalition and opposition. It was not clear which surveys he was referring to.

“Explain to me how [anti-overhaul protest leaders] can convince the public that something is not democratic when you have an equal balance on the committee between the coalition and the opposition,” Fuchs asked.

Also in the interview, Fuchs said that new legislation to be advanced by the coalition in the coming months will lower the age at which Haredi yeshiva students can enter the workforce without fear of conscription, from 26 years old to 21 or 22.

The planned change cited by Fuchs goes even further than a recent decision approved by ministers, which said they would pass legislation lowering the exemption age from 26 to 23.

At present, tens of thousands of Haredi men either avoid working or work off the books amid fear of being drafted and losing special government stipends paid out to exempted yeshiva students younger than 26 years.

The initiative is likely to anger many secular Israelis seeking greater participation by army-age Haredi men in national service. Lowering the exemption age is seen by many secular Israelis as rewarding their skirting of military service by enabling them to enter the job market at around the same age as their serving peers.

Construction and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf arrives outside the home of Shas leader Aryeh Deri in Jerusalem on January 18, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lowering the exemption age all the way to 21 is also likely to prompt opposition from some haredi politicians, who fear this would incentivize young men to cut short their religious studies in favor of entering the job market.

It’s possible though that Fuchs was merely setting Netanyahu’s opening offer in what will be an ongoing negotiation with the Haredi parties regarding the enlistment exemption age.

While Haredi parties are willing to hold discussions regarding the issue of age, the ultra-Orthodox Kikar Hashabat news site reported Thursday that the leaders of Shas and United Torah Judaism will not expect another delay in the legislation. Aryeh Deri and Yitzhak Goldknopf are warning behind closed doors that they will bring down the government if the coalition moves to delay the bill again, according to the report.

In the Mishpacha interview, Fuchs committed to passing the Haredi draft bill in the upcoming parliamentary session but did not specify when. Deri and Goldknopf reportedly want the legislation finalized at the beginning of the session.

August 4, 2023 | Comments »

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