Separating Powers / Will the High Court Set the Knesset's Agenda?

The High Court was not called on to intervene directly in the workings of the Knesset yesterday; State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss did its job when he asked to postpose the hearing until he obtained legal counsel and pledged not to report his findings on the defense of the home front during the Lebanon war to the Knesset State Control Committee.

But the High Court still faces two questions in this regard. The first is whether it will intervene in the agenda of the State Control Committee, which constitutes the very heart of parliamentary activity.

Usually, public discourse on the relationship between branches of government focuses on the High Court's intervention in legislation. But the intervention of the High Court in the Knesset's work is no less a matter of principle, and perhaps is even more so.

The High Court can ostensibly avoid the problem and prohibit the comptroller from giving the information to the committee. However, that would give rise to the other question of principle: Can the provision of information to the legislature, whose job is oversight, really be prohibited? MK Michael Eitan (Likud) notes that the Basic Law on the Government allows the Knesset to require state employees to give it information. He asks where the High Court gets the authority to limit what the Knesset hears.

The dispute with the High Court may have been postponed, but the dispute between the Knesset and its legal advisor, Nurit Elstein, is at its height. The problem started with the debate over the incapacity of the president, when many lawmakers experienced a serious crisis of confidence in Elstein. Now there is no crisis. There is simply no confidence.

MKs expect their legal advisor to represent them and act as a counterweight to the High Court and the attorney general. But yesterday, Elstein asked the High Court to issue an order limiting the right of MKs to express themselves at the meeting. When the High Court made clear it would not do so, she made clear she did not trust the legislators to restrain themselves. Orlev called Elstein's position "scandalous."

Elstein declined to comment, but the Knesset legal department said she was acting according to her best legal opinion. In her directives to the MKs, she said she was "protecting the Knesset's status and the existance of effective and serious deliberations."