Israel's Top Court Hears Opposition's Petition on Knesset Panels

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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The Knesset Arrangements Committee, last month
The Knesset Arrangements Committee, last monthCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

The High Court of Justice is hearing a petition on Monday asking it to overturn the Knesset’s decisions on how many seats each party should receive on each Knesset committee.

The petition, filed by six opposition lawmakers, argued that the committees’ current composition doesn’t reflect the relative sizes of the parties and thereby discriminates against the opposition.

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The hearing will be livestreamed on the court’s website as part of the effort to make High Court hearings more transparent to the public.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The petition noted that the parties in the governing coalition have control over 61 or 62 Knesset seats, while the opposition commands 58 to 59 seats (one lawmaker, Amichai Chikli of Yamina, isn’t reliably part of either the coalition or opposition). But despite the almost evenly balanced forces, it said, coalition parties were given “significant majorities on key committees,” while opposition parties received large majorities on less important committees.

Specifically, the coalition has a majority of three lawmakers on the House Committee, two on the Finance Committee and two on the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. By contrast, the opposition has a majority of five lawmakers on the Science and Technology Committee, four on the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality and three on the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee.

The Knesset in session.Credit: Knesset Spokesperson's Office

“This situation deviates grossly from the rule requiring the composition of the Knesset’s permanent committees to reflect the composition of the Knesset’s parties, based on their relative size,” the petition said. “The Knesset’s decision violates the provisions of the Knesset Law and the Knesset’s bylaws, and under the circumstances, it does severe damage to the essential values at the basis of Israel’s system of government.”

Moreover, as the petition noted, both the Knesset’s legal adviser and the legal adviser to the Knesset’s committees objected to the decision, deeming it legally problematic.

The petitioners consist of four Likud lawmakers – David Bitan, Miri Regev, Keti Shitrit and Patin Mula – and two Shas lawmakers, Moshe Arbel and Michael Malkieli.

Aside from challenging the committees’ composition, they are challenging the assignment of chairpersons and deputy chairpersons. Finally, they have asked the court to rule that Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy acted illegally by bringing the Knesset Arrangements Committee’s proposal on both issues to a vote by the full Knesset.

The Knesset approved the Arrangements Committee’s recommendations on July 12 by a vote of 60-0. The opposition boycotted the vote.

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