Knesset Rejects Proposal to Form Inquiry Commission on Judicial System

Only six lawmakers voted for the bill, seen as a challenge to Netanyahu's party, who did not appear for the vote

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Yamina lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, at a Knesset plenum in August 2020
Yamina lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, at a Knesset plenum in August 2020 Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset voted down a bill on Wednesday sponsored by opposition lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich that sought to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry to examine conflicts of interest between attorney general and state prosecutor Avichai Mendelblit and the justices of the Supreme Court.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at a Knesset plenum in September 2020
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at a Knesset plenum in September 2020Credit: Adina Valman / Knesset

Only six Knesset members voted in favor of the bill, seen as a challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, and 47 voted against it. Likud lawmakers did not attend the plenum or participate in the vote, in keeping with coalition discipline.

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Yamina party's Smotrich attacked coalition Knesset members in his speech: “This government has only one achievement. All of you are covering up and helping [Justice Minister Avi] Nissenkorn build the fortified wall behind which you are hiding the corruption and misrepresentations of the legal system.”

“Avi Nissenkorn, he is the true prime minister and all of you are working for him,” argued Smotrich. “We will continue to stand here time after time and place a mirror in front of you. We will continue to lead this just and essential struggle that the people of Israel are so much hoping for. We will continue to present a moral alternative, courageous and determined to your cowardice and destruction. This bill may fall, but you will fall with it.”

Speaking immediately thereafter, Nissenkorn attacked the attempts to besmirch the credibility of the legal system: “There is a difference between criticism and incitement, between building and destruction. There is a difference between legitimate criticism and the situation in which because of a specific legal event they take the entire [legal] system and try to subjugate and destroy it."

Nissenkorn stressed that "Anyone who wants to take the Supreme Court justices, attorney general, police commissioner and state prosecutor for an investigation here, when they need to be independent, impartial and unintimidated, seems not to have learned a single class in civics. That’s the separation of powers? It is not democracy, it is educating for dictatorship.”

In July, the Knesset voted down a similar initiative by Smotrich to form a parliamentary commission of inquiry that would examine conflicts of interests of Supreme court justices – if it had passed, the government would have collapsed.

Alternative Prime Minister Benny Gantz and his Kahol Lavan party had called the move "a declaration of war on democracy." In the aftermath of the failed July vote, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn vehemently tweeted: "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."  

The Likud, absent from Wednesday's vote, had supported the July bill, though their backing came at the last minute; Netanyahu had zigzagged. According to a coalition source, a vote in favor of Smotrich's proposal provided the Likud with "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."

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