Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon can chalk up two significant achievements from the coalition agreement he signed on Wednesday. He essentially blocked the advancement of two legislative proposals aimed at weakening the status of the Supreme Court: the “override” clause that would allow the Knesset to reenact a law struck down by the court; and a bill that would change the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee. At the same time, the agreement will enable him to veto the advancement of the nation-state bill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s flagship legislation.
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Kahlon had vehemently opposed legislation that would undermine the Supreme Court, after promising during the election campaign he wouldn’t support it.
“I think we need to strengthen the Supreme Court,” he told Haaretz in January. “We can’t forget that the court is the last bastion of the weak, and it must be as strong as possible. All my life I supported the idea that we must strengthen the Supreme Court, even if it sometimes makes decisions that are uncomfortable to one person or another.”
Now, without the support of Kulanu, there is no majority for the passage of such legislation; there would be only 57 coalition MKs who would support such bills if they ever came to a vote. The Likud negotiating team, however, says it plans to insert a demand to pass such laws in the coalition agreements of all its other partners – as a statement of intent and in the hope that someday it will be able to persuade Kahlon to change his mind.
The nation-state bill, which is also expected to be stymied, has gone through several incarnations during the last two Knesset terms. Its primary purpose is to allow courts to favor the Jewish values of the State of Israel over its democratic ones when the two values clash. Some versions would have created blatant discrimination against Arab citizens, calling to drop Arabic as one of the state’s official languages and renouncing the state’s obligations to build communities for non-Jews. Netanyahu has declared his desire to advance another, more moderate, bill, whose main aim is to establish in law that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Under the current coalition agreements, the nation-state bill will be reformulated by a new committee that will include representatives of all the coalition factions. Without the agreement of all the representatives, the bill will not be put to a vote in the Knesset. Political sources say Kulanu is expected to object to any version of the bill, thus vetoing its continued legislation.
A senior Likud figure, however, strongly hinted that it might be possible to force Kahlon to support these laws, even though he opposes them. “The new finance minister will crash and burn in his position if he doesn’t get help from the coalition MKs to pass the reforms he’s planning. In exchange for advancing the reforms, I presume we can put together a package deal and pass these laws as well,” the senior official said.
The two bills to weaken the court have not yet been worded in any official fashion. The override clause bill would actually codify, for the first time, the authority of the High Court to strike down laws in the first place, even as it would enable the Knesset to override those very rulings.
The most likely version to be advanced is one that would make it very difficult for the court to strike down laws by requiring a majority of at least nine justices of an 11-justice panel to do so.
The bill to change the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee calls to raise the number of MKs on the committee from four to six, thus creating a majority for the politicians, who would be able to impose judicial appointments on Supreme Court representatives on the committee.