Netanyahu Softens Pace, Focus of Judicial Reform

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, flanked by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, chairs the weekly Cabinet meeting, March 5. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via REUTERS)

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a softening on Monday of his government’s judicial reform plan.

Wielding a majority, Netanyahu had looked set to ratify the package of reforms by the Knesset’s April 2 recess. But most of it would now be shelved until the Knesset reconvenes on April 30, he and his coalition allies said.

The legislation still slated for ratification in the next two weeks would shake up Israel’s method of selecting judges – an issue at the heart of the reform controversy, with critics accusing Netanyahu of trying to curb independence of the courts.

He insists his goal is balance among branches of government.

Monday’s coalition statement used more circumspect language than in the original bill introduced on Jan. 4, but said it would continue to check the power of judges on the selection panel to use what it deemed an “automatic veto” over nominations to the bench.

The statement further noted amendments made to the bill in a Knesset review session on Sunday, whereby the selection panel would be expanded from nine to 11 members as originally planned, but with a makeup that grants the government less potential clout.

Previously, the bill envisaged the panel including three Cabinet ministers, two coalition lawmakers and two public figures chosen by the government – spelling a maximum 7-4 vote majority.

It is amended form, the bill envisages the panel being made up of three Cabinet ministers, three coalition lawmakers, three judges and two opposition lawmakers. That could spell a slimmer, more precarious 6-5 majority for the government.

The amended bill further stipulates that no more than two High Court justices can be appointed by regular panel voting in a given Knesset session. Any appointments beyond that would have to be approved by a majority vote including at least one judge and one opposition lawmaker among selection panel members.

Netanyahu called for a rethink by the political opposition, which has pledged to boycott ratification votes in the Knesset and encouraged street demonstrations that have reached into the ranks of the IDF, which is usually above politics.

“We are extending a hand to anyone who genuinely cares about national unity and the desire to reach an agreed accord,” the coalition statement said.

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