The ministerial committee for legislation turned down a proposal on Sunday to increase the number of Supreme Court justices from 15 to 18. The vote was 10 against and six in favor. The bill had been sponsored by two nationalist-camp Knesset Members.
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who co-sponsored the bill with MK Yariv Levine (Likud), lashed out at two Likud members who opposed the bill in the committee: Education Minister Gideon Saar and Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman.
Ne'eman had threatened to resign if the bill was accepted.
"Saar and Ne'eman acted as the long arm of [Chief Justice] Dorit Beinisch in the committee," Ben-Ari said after the vote. Beinisch was known to have opposed the bill. "Today we saw... those who received the votes of the nationalist camp voters enable the left to perpetuate its hold on the Supreme Court."
Proponents of the bill said it would ease the crowded court schedule and enable faster service to those waiting for judicial redress, and would enable judges qualified in specific fields to deal with cases having to do with their expertise. But the most significant objective of the bill, according to its sponsors, was to help achieve a more politically balanced Supreme Court. With four justices scheduled to retire in the coming two years, passage of the bill would have led to seven new justices on the Supreme Court in the relatively short time of two years.
"The small number of justices on the Supreme Court gives the Beinisch group complete control over the critical decisions that affect the fate of the State of Israel," Ben-Ari said when he introduced his bill. "Expanding this number will provide an opening for the entry of judges whose world view sees the State of Israel as a Jewish state, and who know how to differentiate between friend and enemy."
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel similarly voiced criticism of Saar and Ne'eman: "Their opposition to this bill is very strange, and it appears that they were not motivated by the good of the legal system. Whoever opposes an increase in the number of judges harms the 'average citizen' waiting for his case to be heard in the Supreme Court for months and years... Similarly, the judges are less representative of the public if there are less of them. The Justice Minister should have brought this proposal on his own, and his nay vote is not a credit to him."
Science Minister Daniel Herskovitz (Jewish Home) and Environment Minister Gideon Erdan (Likud) were among those who voted in favor.
Saar said he was among those who supported an increase in the number of judges from 12 to 15 a few years ago, and that "there is no logic" in making another change so soon. Others who voted against said that too many judges on the Supreme Court would lead to its "politicization."