Ariel and Rotem Win Knesset Vote

Close vote: Knesset votes MKs Rotem (Israel Our Home) and Ariel (National Union) as its representatives on Committee for the Appointment of Judges.

Hillel Fendel ,

In a close and secret vote, the Knesset voted MKs David Rotem (Israel Our Home) and Uri Ariel (National Union) as its representatives on the Committee for the Appointment of Judges.

Rotem, who chairs the Knesset Law Committee, was a foregone favorite to win one of the two slots - while Ariel was a surprise winner for the "opposition" slot. Ariel's race against Bar-On was the subject of great tension, with some Likud members saying they would vote for Bar-On - despite Bar-On's centrist-left orientation. In the event, Ariel received 59 votes, one more than Bar-On's 58.

The results of the vote mean that the nationalist camp, for the first time in memory, has a slight edge in the appointment of judges in the coming year. Despite this, leading Likud members such as Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, Minister Michael Eitan, and others said before the vote that they would vote for Bar-On of Kadima rather than Ariel.

For the Committee to Appoint Rabbinical Court Judges, MKs Otniel Shneller (Kadima) - a religious Jew - and MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) were chosen, over MK Uri Orbach (Jewish Home).

First to vote was MK Fania Kirschenbaum (Israel Our Home), who asked to cast her ballot early because she had a family wedding to attend. She had earlier told Israel National News that she planned to vote for Uri Ariel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu followed Kirschenbaum, and the remaining 115 MKs in the plenum then voted one by one, in alphabetical order, in a process that took more than two hours.

The Knesset Ethics Committee is expected to discuss Bar-On’s behavior in the last Knesset, when he was seen voting in place of another MK. The Land of Israel Legal Forum had asked that the vote be held off until after the Ethics Committee session, but was turned down.

The nine-member Committee for the Appointment of Judges is headed by the Justice Minister, in this case Likud-appointee Yaakov Ne’eman. Its other members include another Cabinet minister (Environment Minister Gilad Erdan of the Likud, chosen Sunday morning by the Cabinet), three Supreme Court justices, including the Chief Justice, two members of the Israeli Bar Association, and two Knesset Members – generally one from the coalition and one from the opposition.

Knesset Speaker Rivlin, who has had a long-standing political rivalry with Bar-On, said before the vote that his responsibilities as Speaker require him to “respect Knesset tradition” and vote for a member of the largest faction in the opposition.

Susie Dym, of the nationalist grassroots Mattot Arim organization, lambasted the idea: “What kind of nonsense is this? Our right-wing Knesset Members should know that we are not stupid, and when a right-wing MK runs against a left-wing MK, especially in such an important matter as the future composition of our courts, we expect them to vote for the right-winger – and not according to some ‘guideline’ that a Kadima PR publicist made up just today to confuse us!”

MK Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud, who served as Ariel’s informal campaign manager for the vote, said, “It’s not even true that the opposition member always comes from the opposition’s largest faction. It’s only happened three times in the Knesset’s 17 terms; recently, the opposition representative has come from Meretz.”       

MK Ariel, a former mayor of Beit El, has had some criticism of the legal system, including what he feels is its overly-active judicial activism, lack of proportionate representation among justices for minorities, and sluggishness in hearing and deciding cases. He criticized the Supreme Court judges for not visiting Gush Katif before ratifying the Knesset's Disengagement laws.

MK Ariel is also among those who feel that land disputes, such as those brought by Arabs and the Peace Now organization against Jewish neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria, should not be decided by the Supreme Court, but rather by lower courts, as are other disputes between neighbors.