Monday night’s vote in the Knesset plenum for the body’s representatives to the Judges' Election Committee took a long time. MK Dudu Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu, a coalition candidate for the committee, sat closest to the ballot box, watching the MKs closely as they stepped behind the curtain. While most of them shook his hand cordially, they voted for MK Yitzhak Cohen of Shas alongside MK Yitzhak Herzog of Labor.
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When the votes were counted, it was revealed that for the first time in the Knesset’s history, there will be no coalition representative on the important committee (except, of course, for Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah, who heads the committee by virtue of her position, and Minister Gilad Erdan of Likud). For the second time in a row, term after term, the "deal" between the opposition and the coalition on who would represent the Knesset on the committee, which elects Israel's major judges, was broken.
Four years ago Likud, drunk with victory, seized the poor man's lamb, so to speak, stealing the main opposition faction, Kadima. Then, in a move that has become customary over the decades, the ruling party chose Uri Ariel of Habayit Hayehudi for the committee over Roni Bar-On of Kadima. Poetic justice was served Monday night: The Likud faction is still in power, but this time, it has gotten a taste of its own medicine and will not be represented on the committee.
Once again, it was proven that behind the ballot-box curtain, the MKs are laws unto themselves and do not necessarily stick to deals. Many MKs cannot stand Rotem. He is considered coarse, extreme, hot-headed and reactionary. Cohen, on the other hand, is one of the best-liked MKs in the house. Herzog, who is also likable, pleasant and a veteran jurist, got many votes from both sides of the aisle. Rotem only got votes from his coalition partners, while Cohen ended up with a windfall. The opposition, including Rotem’s enemies, supported him.
What does this say about the performance of the Judicial Selection Committee over the next few years? Things are going to be different. Cohen is a member of Shas. He has no love or admiration for the Supreme Court, which his mentor and spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, calls "a court of gentiles." But the internal balance on the committee leans more toward the side of the judges. Instead of Yaakov Neeman, Erdan, Rotem and Ariel, the politicians who were on the previous committee – all of them, without exception, members of the right wing – the current committee will include Livni, Erdan, Herzog and Cohen. That’s good news for Supreme Court President Asher Grunis and his colleagues.
Monday night’s biggest accomplishment definitely belongs to the new Shas, headed by Aryeh Deri. A rejected, godforsaken opposition faction with less than 10 percent representation in the Knesset managed to secure 50 percent of the Knesset’s representation on two appointment committees: Cohen on the Judicial Selection Committee and former party chairman Eli Yishai on the Committee for the Appointment of Rabbinic Judges (alongside MK Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli of Habayit Hayehudi).
The loudest slap in the face Monday night was delivered to MK Avigdor Lieberman, the chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu. Rotem is a close associate of Lieberman's and does his bidding. The desire to keep Rotem as the coalition’s representative on the Judicial Selection Committee – a position he held for the past four years along with the chairmanship of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee – was a supreme interest for his boss. What made the slap smart all the more (or maybe less; who knows?) is that the one who handed Lieberman this parliamentary defeat was none other than his good friend, Deri. It was, apparently, the finger of God.