Judicial reform passes first reading, despite president’s call for a pause and rowdy opposition

Coalition members say there is room for compromise but the other side must be ready to negotiate in good faith. The first reading passed by a vote of 9-7.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Senior Likud officials and their coalition partners said Monday that they would continue the judicial reform process despite President Isaac Herzog’s call Sunday for a pause in the Knesset committee discussions and votes so that the sides could negotiate a compromise.

While acknowledging that “there are positive elements” in the president’s proposal, Justice Minister Yariv Levin said that talks between the Opposition and coalition “should not be linked to the progress of the legislative procedures” so that they do not “become a means of foot-dragging to delay and prevent a substantial and significant reform in the judicial system.”

Levin said he has always been ready to hold “real talks with members of the opposition who will agree to it,” and that “it is best to start these talks immediately.” However, “we all have enough time to be able to talk and reach understandings before the second and third readings” of the bills.

Once a bill is approved in the relevant Knesset committee, it goes for a first reading in the Knesset. If it passes there, it goes back to the committee and rarely returns for its next readings without changes being made.

Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) said he “welcomes the president’s initiative to hold real talks” and would be “happy to sit, without any delay, through the mediation of the president and wherever he chooses, with any representative of the opposition who wishes to do so” – but without any “preconditions,” such as delaying the legislative process.

Rothman did not budge from his stand that the details of the laws themselves had to be thrashed out in the Knesset, “the representative of the people,” because that is the only place where legislating can and should take place, he said, referencing former Supreme Court Justice and Israel Prize winner Moshe Zilberg.

He added that the gaps between the president’s suggestions and the drafts of the bills the coalition is pushing “are not negligible but are also not large, and certainly do not justify prophecies of the apocalypse or the cries about the shattering of democracy,” as the Opposition has been claiming for the last several weeks.

“With honest talks between the opposition and the coalition, I believe we can narrow the gaps and strive for a plan that will enjoy broad agreement,” he said.

Live scenes from the committee meeting Monday morning showed an atmosphere unconducive to compromise. Opposition members shouted “Shame on you!” and “Dictator!” at Rothman, many banged rhythmically on the table, and a group started singing the Israeli classic “I Have No Other Country.” The commotion became so unruly that 17 Knesset members were thrown out of the room, but they and others congregated at the door and continued shouting.

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When order was restored, the coalition passed several judicial reforms by a 9-7 vote, including disallowing the Supreme Court to reject the validity of Basic Laws passed in the Knesset and changing the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee so that coalition members are in the majority.