PM Seeks Rightist Majority on Judge Selection C'tee

Likud is hoping to prevent Kadima MK Roni Bar-On from filling the opposition slot in the Knesset Judges Appointments Committee, instead pushing for right-wing MK Uri Ariel of the National Union. The move comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Yisrael Beiteinu control over the justice and public security ministries as well as the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Ariel is a staunch opponent of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and to what is known as "judiciary activism."

Ariel's expected appointment next week will create a bloc of four right wing representatives in the committee - from Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and National Union, on the eve of the appointment of five Supreme Court justices.

Until now the committee had at least one member of the opposing camp - right or left - depending on the coalition's make up.

Kadima's faction had chosen Bar-On as its representative in the Judges Appointments Committee several weeks ago. Yesterday it was learned that Likud was acting to appoint Ariel for the post, enraging Kadima. It is customary in the Knesset for the opposition to choose its only representatives in the Judges Appointments Committee, which also consists of three coalition members, two ministers and a Knesset member. The committee usually receives the coalition's automatic support in a secret Knesset ballot.

The opposition's team in the committee has always been a member of the largest opposition faction. For example, in the previous Knesset term, MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) represented the opposition in the committee and MK Dalia Itzik (Labor) represented the opposition in the previous Knesset.

Now Likud is breaking the rules. Kadima is convinced that Bar-On's centrist and independent opinions on judiciary issues are not the only ones that blackballed him, but his tense relations with Netanyahu.

"Thirteen years after Netanyahu appointed Bar-On attorney general - an affair that almost toppled him - he is trying to thwart his election to the Judges Appointments Committee," a political source said yesterday.

A source close to Netanyahu said, "The prime minister does not deal with appointing opposition members to the committee."

In addition to the Bar-On case, the committee's establishment is being held-up by the delay in the cabinet's decision to appoint a minister to the committee, in addition to the justice minister chairing the committee. The probable candidates are Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan.

Political sources said Erdan was the favorite because Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman objects to Sa'ar, whom he considers a friend of the justice system.

Lieberman had vetoed Sa'ar's appointment to justice minister in this government.

"The attempt to use a coalition majority to change unwritten agreements that have always prevailed in the Knesset is extremely grave," Bar-On said yesterday.