After Tuesday’s election results were known, MK Yariv Levin (Likud) announced that the new right-wing government would rule fearlessly and institute major changes to the legal system. Levin was referring to proposals that include a change in the composition of the judicial selection committee; the elimination of the seniority system for appointing Supreme Court presidents; and a policy that would make any legal opinions issued by the various government ministries simply advisory and not binding. These proposals are characteristic of Levin’s political activity against the legal system.
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The assault on the rule of law and independence of the Supreme Court intensified during the term of the outgoing government. The statement by former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar that he would only accept a portion of the High Court of Justice rulings relating to asylum seekers came to fruition again and again, after Knesset legislation was advanced that included a legal deficiency the court had already invalidated.
At the same time, the government supported a proposal by MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) that would allow High Court of Justice rulings on human rights to be ignored, as well as other improper proposals such as the bill defining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, which contradicts the notion of equality.
These initiatives and others were halted in the outgoing government, in part due to the opposition of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (now Zionist Union) and ministers from Yesh Atid. Until now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also put a halt to most of the initiatives designed at harming the legal system and the Supreme Court. That, however, is not enough. Netanyahu’s response has always been too little and too late: the very fact that these proposals advanced has sent a threatening message to the judiciary, to the effect that the government and Knesset are liable to limit its authority if the courts don’t do what they wish.
During the term of the incoming government, four justices are set to be appointed to the Supreme Court; the replacement of Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, by Justice Esther Hayut, is also due. If the composition of the judicial selection committee and the system of seniority are harmed, it will be evidence of the government’s desire to appoint whichever judges it feels like appointing, to exert control over the Supreme Court’s rulings.
If Netanyahu wants to show he is committed to the judiciary, he has to translate his words into action. First and foremost, he must appoint a justice minister who is committed to the rule of law – someone like Benny Begin (Likud). He cannot simply let the position go to a politician such as Shaked or Levin, who seek to damage the legal system.