Netanyahu against vetting of Supreme Court judges

The political battle over new laws aimed at limiting foreign funding of human rights organisations and changing Israel's Supreme Court continued to rage this week, with no clear winner emerging.

The law forbidding "political NGOs" in Israel from receiving funding from foreign governments was proposed by Likud Knesset member Ophir Akunis. The legislation is mainly aimed at left-wing human rights organisations that the right are accusing of "taking money from foreign interests to act against the state".

On Sunday, the cabinet's legislative committee voted to support the law in the Knesset by 11 votes to five.

The move came despite warnings from the National Security Adviser that it would harm Israel's international standing. The British Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, also warned Israeli politicians of the damage the law would cause to Israel's diplomatic relations.

Despite supporting the law in the legislative committee, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressured MK Akunis to "tone it down" before it is brought to a Knesset vote.

However, Mr Netanyahu decided to oppose another law proposed by the right-wing that called for open hearings to vet all candidates for the Supreme Court. "Judges will not have to appear for politicians," said Mr Netanyahu, "the independence of the court is paramount."

But the Prime Minister did not oppose two other controversial laws involving the Supreme Court that passed in the Knesset this week. One of those shortens the minimum period that the president of the court can serve. This will allow the conservative judge Asher Grunis, who is favoured by the right, to be appointed as the next Supreme Court president.

Another law that passed in its preliminary vote gives the Israeli Bar Association, currently controlled by a left-wing faction, less control over choosing its representatives to the Judicial Appointments Committee that rules on the identity of new judges.

A number of senior Likud ministers who oppose the laws as "undemocratic" were not present during the votes so as not to defy the coalition whip.

Infrastructure Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu MK Uzi Landau, who supported the laws, said that they were necessary because "the Supreme Court lacks pluralism. It is elitist, Ashkenazi, political and left-wing and is disconnected from Judaism and sometimes reality. It allows itself to meddle in affairs in which it has no business."

The law proposals were not only opposed by the centrist and left-wing parties in the Knesset and a small minority of Likud members. President Shimon Peres, in an extremely rare political intervention, expressed his opposition to the laws, which he said "deviate from the democratic principle". The president said that "democracy means serving everyone, not ruling everyone."

    Last updated: 3:13pm, November 17 2011