Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bowed to pressures from the Attorney General, mainstream media and some of his own Likud party Knesset Members Sunday and postponed a vote on a bill on High Court appointments. The measure is strongly supported by nationalists and is sponsored by the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties.
The bill would require nominees for the High Court to face questioning by the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, which could rule against a particular nominee.
In the United States Supreme Court, the same procedures are used, except that the Senate as a whole, and not a committee, ratifies or rejects judicial appointments by the president.
Nevertheless, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein argued that the bill would violate freedom of expression, but did not explain how, and warned that it could be ruled unconstitutional by the High Court, which would then be acting to stymie a legislative decision affecting itself.
The bill was proposed to counter what Israelis call the “clubhouse” effect that guarantees appointments of a majority of High Court justices who share the same views.
In recent years, that has meant justices in favor of left-wing policies and against nationalists’ rights, because the committee to appoint Supreme Court Judges includes three of those justices - who have veto power - two MK's (one coalition and one opposition) and two members of the lawyer's association (who often are careful not to oppose the justices they will face in the courtroom).
The recent vote for the two MK's was a surprise for the opposition, as MK Dudu Rotem (coalition, Yisrael Beitenu) and MK Uri Ariel (opposition, National Home), both rightists, were voted in.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the bill ”dangerous” and even Likud party stalwart Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar broke ranks with the sponsors and warned that the bill, if passed, would politicize the appointment of justices on the High Court.
Nationalists have argued that the bill is intended to correct exactly what they say is the same situation of a subtle but certain politicization that has allowed anti-nationalists to remain in the majority.
Ze’ev Elkin, a co-sponsor of the bill, said it would make the judicial selection process more transparent and end “the radical left-wing” character of the courts. They add that the US Senate has a Republican or Democratic majority, making its review just as political.