Orit Noked
Orit Noked Photo by Emil Salman
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Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, a member of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, on Thursday made an urgent appeal to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, asking him to withdraw a draft law restricting petitions to the High Court of Justice from the panel's agenda for this Sunday.

"The bill seeks to regularize the status of public petitions in primary legislation and at the same time to significantly reduce them ... Protecting the right to stand before the High Court in its current format is a model for us all and is in keeping with the principles of justice, law and tolerance on which the State of Israel was founded," Noked wrote in her letter to Neeman, adding that the draft law contradicted the government's coalition agreement with Atzmaut, which she represents in the Knesset.

The director of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, Eli Sulam, and NGO attorney Mika Kohner Kerten, on Thursday urged the ministerial committee to oppose the bill, calling it "part of the legislative flood that is being visited upon us and whose purpose is to silence voices that are uncomfortable to the government and its authorities."

In a letter to committee members, the organization said the bill - introduced by Likud MKs Yariv Levin and Danny Danon - "jeopardizes the ability of the public petitioner to bring that which is seen as a failure of or inappropriate conduct by government authorities before the court," and "puts public petitioners a priori in the position of 'the immediate suspect' and delegitimizes them in advance."

Among other provisions, the bill would prohibit human rights groups that are not registered in Israel from petitioning the High Court. Such organizations would also be barred from appealing to the court on behalf of a specific individual unless that individual also petitioned the court. In addition, organizations would only be permitted to file petitions that touch on issues of material constitutional law, and would be required to report any funding they receive from foreign countries.

On Thursday, Labor Party head MK Shelly Yachimovich called on the ministerial committee to oppose the bill, which she said "would only hurt disadvantaged groups that are incapable of petitioning [the High Court] and participating in the judicial process."

MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz ), a cofounder and the first director of B'Tselem, on Thursday said the purpose of the bill was to deprive citizens of any possibility of legal protection and of justice, "since without the petition to the High Court by civil society organizations, there is no way to prevent governmental injustices. No High Court and no B'Tselem may be the dream of Danon and co., but it's the nightmare of all the populations that benefited from the court's protection: women, the old, children, Palestinians, the sick and others for whom petitioning the High Court through civil society organizations is their last and sometimes only line of defense."