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Judicial Reform Bills Pass on First Reading

Two bills aimed at reforming Israel's High Court of Justice were approved by the Knesset in a tumultuous plenary session.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 11/14/2011, 10:28 PM

Judge Asher Grunis
Judge Asher Grunis
Israel Courts Website

Two bills seeking to reform appointments to Israel's High Court of Justice were approved by the Knesset Monday.

The first bill called for the automatic appointment of the Bar Association president to the Judge Selection Committee.

The second bill, dubbed the Grunis Law, was proposed by MK Yaakov Katz (National Union). Itamends the present law and would allow the appointment of a Supreme Court Chief Justice with only two years remaining until retirement.

Israel's Supreme Court Chief Justices are appointed on the basis of seniority. The bill is widely seen as meant to pave the way for Justice Asher Dan Grunis to serve as the next president instead of Justice Miriam Naor.

Justice Grunis is against the activist Supreme Court policy initiated by former Chief Justice Aharon Barak, who claimed that "everything is judgeable" in the courts and proceeded to act upon that principle.  Under Barak, present Chief Justice Beinisch's mentor, the court changed the route of the security fence to comply with Arab claims and opened route 443 to Arab drivers, despite IDF security-related objections. 

Grunis has more years on the Supreme Court than Naor, but by February he would have slightly less than three years remaining until his retirement (Grunis will be 70 in January 2015).

The Grunis Law passed the first reading at the Knesset Monday evening by a 52-35 margin. The judge selection bill passed the preliminary reading by 50 to 35.

The session was marked by acrimony and a series of no confidence motions against the government that were defeated in succession before the votes could be held.

Kadima members waved black flags and disrupted proceedings, necessitating their removal from the plenum in order for the vote to proceed. Chairwoman Tzipi Livni accused Netanyahu - who did not attend the session - of trying to turn Israel "into a Feiglin-style dictatorship."

Prior to the session, Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke out against the proposal that aims to change the makeup of the Judge selection committee - but did not see fit to attend and vote against it.

"We bear witness to bills that aim to compromise the Supreme Court and the independence of the judges," he said.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz - who has been locked in conflict with Barak over budgetary disputes and an entrenched disagreement over the transfer of tax revenues to the PA - rebutted accusations against the government.

"There is no threat, not harm, just the strengthening of Democracy," he said.

Steinitz added the Kadima MKs were hypocritical in their criticism, claiming that they voiced no opposition when former Justice Minister Daniel Friedman berated the judicial system constantly during the period of Kadima's coaliton government.

Nationalist MK Michael Ben-Ari hailed the vote saying current Supreme Court Chief Justice “Dorit Beinisch must understand that an era has ended."

“It is possible that Grunis is also a leftist,” he added, “but with the passage of the law there is a message to the gangs of leftists that use the 'rule of law' to persecute others who disagree with them: The Knesset is not made up of simpletons , and Israelis have had enough of the 'old boy network' that has prevailed until now.”