Rightist MKs seek Knesset veto over Supreme Court

This is what an attempt at a fascist coup looks like – Likud MKs enraged by court petitions against the boycott bill are now pushing for legislation granting the Knesset a veto over Supreme Court appointments. Such a law would destroy the separation of powers in Israel – and although it’s likely to fail this time around, it is a chilling harbinger of things to come.

I’m not usually one for “fascism” and certainly “nazism” hyperboles, but in my book, such a direct assault on separation of powers  – coming amid a torrent of other laws limiting freedom of thought, expression and organising – most certainly reads like your classical legislative fascist coup. Israeli news sites just reported that a group of Likud MKs are determined to push forward a bill that would grant the Knesset  Constitution, Law and Justice Committee the power to veto Supreme Court candidates for justices and for presidency.

In other words, the highly political parliamentary committee – currently chaired by Yisrael Beitenu – will be able to overrule the integrated Judicial Appointments Committee; the JAC has nine members, including the Justice Minister plus one other minister; two delegates from the Israeli Bar; two MKs, traditionally one from the coalition and one from the opposition; the Supreme Court President and two other justices. The JAC has long been a dam between the increasingly anti-judicial parliament and the embattled Supreme Court/High Court of Justice; it now appears that the Likud has decided to stop trying reform the committee and to simply go over its head. In the words of its sponsors:

“The sponsors said that ‘in this manner, the bill will give the Knesset a right to veto the appointment of justices to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court President, thus balancing out the veto power currently enjoyed by the justices in the judicial appointments committee, with the three judicial delegates able to veto and prevent any appointment they dislike.

What the sponsors leave unmentioned is that if the bill is successful, the rest of the JAC will within a few years effectively dictate the identity of the judicial delegates, thus collapsing the dam from within. In case you thought this was simply procedural or correcting some imbalance of power between the unelected court and the elected parliament, coalition supporters of the bill are helpfully blunt:

Coalition sources said that the bill will break the control of the radical leftist elite of the court system and will restore the sovereignty of the people and the Knesset to democratic life in Israel. If someone is pretending to strike down laws, they should face the public test and be elected in a transparent and democratic manner. The arrangement will put an end to the bring-a-friend method employed by the Supreme Court justices in the appointments process, and will prevent the appointment of justices with post-Zionist agendas.”

The sponsors of the bill are chair of the Knesset House Committe, Yariv Levin, and the chief whip, MK Ze’ev “No Boycott” Elkin. It’s also crucially important that the current Justice Minister, Yaakov Ne’eman, has long since sought to curb the “activism” of the Supreme Court, and that he owes his own appointment to Lieberman.

I personally don’t think this bill will pass this summer – it seems too much, too soon in terms of the sea change it seeks to produce in the very structure of the state – but it’s a knife at the throat of the Supreme Court as it comes to consider petitions against the boycott bill. Yossi wrote yesterday the Left should stop petitioning the Court against rightist legislation, among other reasons beacuse it helps the right-wing build up the momentum for an anti-judicial coup. I would argue the Court is already so terrified it probably won’t strike down the boycott bill regardless, or arrive at a compromise version. The Court has been so cautious in recent years it seems it’s saving itself for some last stand, some Masada moment – which, just like the original, will end up proving too little, too late.

Update: Minister Dan Meridor blasted the bill in an interview to Walla, saying there was “no chance the bill will pass under this government,” and describing it as posing a serious danger to democracy. Education Minister Gideon Saar also described the bill as “dangerous.”