Knesset Votes Down Probe of Judges as Gantz-Netanyahu Crisis Brews

Netanyahu's party earlier said it supports far-right lawmaker's initiative to form commission of inquiry into conflicts of interest of Supreme Court justices ■ Gantz's Kahol Lavan called decision 'declaration of war on Israeli democracy'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 2020.
Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 2020.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset on Wednesday voted against forming a commission of inquiry that will probe conflicts of interest of Supreme Court justices.

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party said it would back the initiative by far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich of the Yamina faction to establish such a commission. 

Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party called the move "a declaration of war on democracy.

Gantz addressed the vote later on Wednesday and said "Today we had to stop our activities to prevent harm to the Israeli judges and the legal system. I'm glad we did, I'm proud that we did. What matters these days is security, health and the economy, and not the political game." Gantz then announced his party's intention to bring forth an economic aid package for Israeli citizens.

In his request for the committee, Smotrich wrote that "in recent weeks a series of investigative reports have been published, revealing an unacceptable reality of major conflict of interests among Supreme Court judges." His request adds that the probe will look into whether these conflicts of interests exist solely in the Supreme Court or in lower courts as well.

A coalition source said following the vote that Likud "identified an opportunity to enjoy all worlds. Not only did they vote in favor of another move to strike down the Supreme Court, they also made sure that the move did not pass and thus saved the coalition and withheld the dramatic achievement from Smotrich. For dessert, Likud again made Lieberman and the Joint List vote jointly and embarrass Yisrael Beiteinu."

Following Likud's announcement that it would back the proposal, members of Kahol Lavan attacked the decision. Gantz accused Likud of seeking to investigate judges instead of caring for the country's unemployed.

"Instead of dealing with the economic disaster, they manufacture a moral one. Those who would rather tamper with democracy instead of dealing with saving peoples' lives is harming Israel's citizens. I will not permit this," he said in a statement.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn wrote on Twitter that "Israel has a million unemployed and every day more than a thousand new coronavirus cases are diagnosed, and there are those who find it urgent to tear down the rule of law. I will not allow it."

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (Kahol Lavan) said the initiative is "a spit in the face of democracy and the rule of law" and that his party would not agree to it.

Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir added that "Hundreds of thousands have no livelihood and they're dealing with probing judges. Absurd. Not going to happen."

"The days when the Knesset was afraid to criticize the courts are over," said Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a member of Likud. He added that the initiative "dismantles another roadblock on the path to an effective parliamentary oversight."

The ultra-Orthodox faction Shas said it would support any such proposition. Likud's decision to support the initiative was made during consultations between coalition leaders, after Smotrich pressured Shas and United Torah Judaism to back it as well.

Zohar later tweeted that the decision to back the commission "stems solely from our desire to fulfill the expectations of our constituency. We have no desire to go to election. I hope a way is found to make amends with Kahol Lavan. That is the order of the day."

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