Jerusalem, 14 June, 2023 (TPS) — A day of drama and uncertainty ended at the Knesset as lawmakers voted for an opposition lawmaker to take a seat on the Judicial Selection Committee on Wednesday evening. The committee, which approves judges, has been at the center of the government’s highly controversial judicial overhaul initiative.
Karen Elharrar of the Yesh Atid party secured her spot by a vote of 58-56.
A second lawmaker, traditionally from the governing coalition, was not chosen. The Knesset will vote on that person in 30 days.
Throughout the day, there was no clarity on which way the results would go. The opposition vowed to escalate anti-government protests if Elharrar was not approved.
By custom, two of the nine seats on the Judicial Selection Committee are reserved for two lawmakers, one from the coalition and the other from the opposition.
The other seats are automatically given to the Justice Minister, another Cabinet minister, the President of the Supreme Court and two other justices, and two members of the Israeli Bar Association. The committee is chaired by the Justice Minister. Currently, the seven members of the committee must approve the appointment of Supreme Court justices, while five are needed for lower level judges.
However, changes in the makeup of the selection committee are part of the governing coalition’s judicial initiative. Legislation advancing through the Knesset would alter the way judges are appointed and removed, give the Knesset the ability to override certain High Court rulings, restrict the ability of judges to apply standards of “reasonableness,” and change the way legal advisors are appointed to government ministries.
Supporters of the legal overhaul say they want to end years of judicial overreach while opponents describe the proposals as anti-democratic.
The Judicial Selection Committee will have its work cut out: Besides a shortage of judges nationwide, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Anat Baron are due to step down in October.
Netanyahu already promised the coalition’s seat would be given to MK Yizhak Kroyzer of the right-wing Otzma Yehudit party. The opposition parties united in their support of Elharrar.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to have the vote on the selection committee members delayed for 30 days, fearing that the coalition members would select two lawmakers from the right-wing bloc, sparking a new escalation of anti-government protests.
Pressured by Netanyahu, other coalition members vying for a seat on the committee withdrew their candidacy except for Tally Gotliv of Likud.
The votes for committee are secret, and without the ability to enforce coalition discipline, Netanyahu sought to have Kroyzer withdraw his candidacy and have the coalition vote against both Gotliv and Elharrar. With no candidate getting a Knesset majority, a new vote would have been scheduled in 30 days.