Israeli President’s Judicial Reform Compromise Gathers Momentum

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President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, at the 2022 MUNI - EXPO, the annual Urban Innovation conference of the Union of Local Authorities at the Tel Aviv Convention center. Tel Aviv, Dec 6, 2022. Photo by Gideon Markowicz/TPS
By Pesach Benson • 7 March, 2023

 

Jerusalem, 7 March, 2023 (TPS) — Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s efforts to mediate a compromise on judicial reform has gathered momentum in recent days, possibly leading towards an end of political acrimony and anti-government demonstrations.

During a meeting with nearly 100 mayors and leaders of local authorities at the President’s residence on Monday, Herzog said, “We are closer than ever to the possibility of an agreed-upon framework.”

In recent weeks, Herzog has been meeting with government and opposition officials, legal figures, and academics to formulate a compromise.

Coalition and opposition leaders both say they are open to the President’s mediation. However the two sides are stuck over the issue of pausing the government’s legislative blitz. Coalition officials insist on talks without preconditions, the opposition refuses to negotiate while the government continues pushing the legislation through.

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Judicial Appointments and the Override Clause

Details of what the compromise contains have not been confirmed, but it is understood that the process for appointing judges will be revised, while a contentious Supreme Court override clause will either be abolished or make it harder for lawmakers to use.

Currently, the government committee that appoints judges to the Supreme Court is made up of nine people: two government ministers, one coalition Knesset member, one opposition Knesset member, three Supreme Court justices and two representatives of the Israeli Bar Association.

Under legislation advancing in the Knesset and spearheaded by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the committee would be expanded to 11, with three government ministers, three Supreme Court justices, two coalition MKs and one opposition MK, and two people appointed by the Justice Minister. Judges would be approved by a simple majority.

It is believed that under Herzog’s proposal, the committee would be expanded to 11, but would be made up of three cabinet ministers, one coalition MK, two opposition MKs, three Supreme Court justices, and two “public representatives” jointly appointed by the Justice Minister and the President of the Supreme Court.

Regarding the Supreme Court “override clause” which has sparked the most controversy, it is believed that Herzog’s compromise would either abolish it, or require a larger majority of lawmakers to override a court ruling.

Last Wednesday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee advanced legislation which would requires a majority of 12 out of the Supreme Court’s 15 justices to strike down laws as unconstitutional, and empower the Knesset to override Supreme Court rulings with the approval of a simple majority of 61 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers.

Supporters of the legal overhaul say they want to end years of judicial overreach while opponents describe the proposals as anti-democratic.

Protests against the reforms have escalated. Opponents said on Tuesday morning that they would block roads around Ben-Gurion Airport to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from departing for an official visit to Italy. El Al, Israel’s national carrier, had trouble finding pilots qualified to fly the route.

A growing number of military reservists have threatened not to show up for service.

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