Vote on Bill for Vetting Israel Supreme Court Candidates to Be Pushed Off

Political sources to Haaretz: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud ministers expected to put off vote, slated for Sunday morning, probably by a week.

The government is expected to postpone a vote scheduled for Sunday on a controversial bill giving the Knesset Constitution Committee the right to vet Supreme Court candidates.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation was supposed to vote on the bill on Sunday. But political sources told Haaretz on Saturday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud ministers, who are due to meet on Sunday morning to discuss the bill, are expected to put off the vote, probably by a week.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee
Tomer Applebaum

Likud ministers said Saturday they believe Netanyahu objects to the bill, on the basis of past statements he has made.

MK Zeev Elkin (Likud ), who co-sponsored the bill with MK Yariv Levin (Likud ), confirmed Saturday that he had been approached by political figures in a bid to put the vote off.

At the same time the Knesset is bracing for a series of votes on controversial bills this week that critics say will restrict freedom of expression and weaken the judicial system.

The bills include two which would limit foreign funding for human rights organizations; a bill to significantly increase compensation for libel and a bill abolishing the rule that a justice cannot be appointed Supreme Court president unless he is at least three years short of the mandatory retirement age of 70.

The bill would pave Justice Asher Grunis' way to becoming Supreme Court president.

Another measure to be voted on this week calls for changing the membership of the Judicial Appointments Committee. This is seen by some as a move to help Judge Noam Sohlberg win a Supreme Court appointment.

The vetting bill conditions every judicial Supreme Court appointment and its president on a hearing at the Knesset's Constitution Committee. The committee would have the power to nix any candidate from joining the Supreme Court.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein objects to two bills curtailing foreign funding for human rights organizations, which are scheduled to be voted on on Sunday by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The two bills, which cover the same ground, were submitted by Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu MKs respectively.

Weinstein said the bills infringe on the freedom of expression, are unconstitutional and would probably not withstand a petition to the High Court of Justice.

Netanyahu has announced support for the bill sponsored by two members of his Likud party - MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis - which would cap foreign governments' contributions to "political" non-governmental organizations at NIS 20,000.

Yisrael Beiteinu is throwing its weight behind its MK Fania Kirshenbaum's bill, which would slap a 45 percent tax on foreign governments' donations to NGOs that don't receive state funding.

Weinstein said he believes the bill sponsored by Akunis is unnecessary, since the Knesset has enacted legislation in March this year obliging NGOs supported by foreign organizations to publish a report of their financial sources.

The attorney general will present his position at the committee session on Sunday.

Tomorrow, the Knesset is to vote on an amendment to the Libel Law, which would raise the compensation that a libel victim can claim without having to prove actual damage from NIS 50,000 to NIS 500,000.

The bill, sponsored by Levin and Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit, is almost certain to pass, since the coalition supports it, and since Kadima, the main opposition party, is letting its MKs vote their conscience.