Tensions Run High as Knesset Set to Vote on String of Controversial Bills

Critics say the bills, if passed, will restrict freedom of expression and weaken the judicial system.

The Knesset is expected to vote Monday on a series of controversial bills, including a proposal that would help the coalition get its candidate, Judge Noam Sohlberg, onto the Supreme Court.

Critics say the bills, if passed, will restrict freedom of expression and weaken the judicial system.

minister Yaakov Neeman - Michal Fattal
Michal Fattal

The Sohlberg bill, sponsored by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu ), would change the way the Israel Bar Association's two representatives on the Judicial Appointments Committee are selected. Currently, the bar's national council picks both; the bill would require one to be the bar chairman and the other a member of the bar's internal opposition.

The bill is seen as a way to ease Sohlberg's appointment to the court by ensuring that at least one bar representative sides with his backers on the committee.

Judge Noam Sohlberg
Daniel Bar-On

The coalition chairman, MK Zeev Elkin (Likud ), intended this week to stage a series of votes on this bill. But the legislation ran into difficulties; the Justice Ministry says the current draft is unconstitutional.

In recent days, coalition MKs said they might not be able to push the bill through before the bar association elects officers on November 22. But Elkin has taken steps to ensure that the bill influences the election process that would lead to Sohlberg's appointment.

The law will not take effect before the bar association vote, but it will include a clause that requires a re-vote immediately after the law comes into force. In these repeat elections, the bar will choose a delegate from its governing leadership and from its opposition.

Knesset sources say Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman will defer the meeting of the Judicial Appointments Committee for a few weeks to give the coalition time to complete work on the bill and to give the bar association time to hold its elections.

On Sunday opposition MKs expressed anger about Speaker Reuven Rivlin's decision to hold a vote on this bill Monday rather than Wednesday; the legislation is a private member's bill that is not supposed to be on the agenda for Monday. MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima ) said Rivlin is acting improperly in a bid to push the legislation through.

But Rivlin's spokesman said the speaker agreed last week to the opposition's request to postpone the vote because of the Muslim holiday Id al-Adha.

Ilatov sponsored the bill based on the results of the bar association's last elections. The association's incoming chairman, attorney Doron Barzilay, belongs to Neeman's camp. But the association's former chairman, attorney Yuri Guy-Ron, is linked to Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. He gained control of the bar's national council, which selects two delegates for the Judicial Appointments Committee.

Also on Monday, the Knesset is expected to consider an amendment to the defamation law that would increase compensation to libel victims to NIS 500,000 from NIS 50,000, without proving damage. The bill will be put to a vote on first reading.

Prospects for success at this stage are high since the bill is supported by the coalition, and the opposition Kadima party will allow its members to vote their consciences. One of its sponsors is a Kadima MK, Meir Sheetrit.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: היום: ההצבעה על השינוי בוועדה לבחירת שופטים