January 4, 2012 / 9:50 PM / 6 years ago

Israel's Netanyahu nixes bill on naming top judges

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Taglit-Birthright Israel event in Jerusalem January 4, 2012.Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday withdrew proposed legislation seen by critics as unfairly favoring his rightist coalition, after being told by the attorney-general that a court would probably deem it as flawed, a spokesman said.

If it had become law, the legislation would have allowed a change in the makeup of a committee of politicians and jurists that appoints Supreme Court judges, facilitating the naming of justices that right-wing lawmakers see as favorable to them.

The bill also proposed annulling Israel's bar association elections, held last month, which nominated two members to the committee who are seen as opponents of many influential right-wing lawmakers on judicial appointments.

"The attorney-general told the prime minister that if the bill were voted into law it would not stand up to scrutiny in court, so he has decided to shelve it in its current form," said a spokesman in Netanyahu's office, who declined to be named.

Netanyahu's conservative government has come under attack for promoting legislation that critics said would weaken the independence of Israel's judiciary.

In a country that does not have a constitution, the Supreme Court is widely respected as an independent-minded watchdog over the legislature and guarantor of civil rights.

Netanyahu has insisted he will protect the independence of the judiciary. The spokesman said that Netanyahu himself had not been a proponent of the bill.

Parliament on Monday passed a government-backed amendment that paves the way for a justice perceived by right-wing lawmakers as an ally, to be appointed as then next chief of the Supreme Court.

Last month, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch accused government allies of waging a poisonous campaign against the judiciary, saying they were undermining the legal system's cherished independence.

Speaking at a legal conference, Beinisch said the judiciary faced: "a de-legitimization campaign headed by several politicians, parliamentarians and even government ministers, who propagate false and misleading information".

The Supreme Court is dominated by secular Jews of European descent. Just one of the court's 13 justices is an orthodox Jew while the only one who originated from Jewish communities in the Middle East and north Africa has retired.

By contrast, parliament and the government host a large number of representatives from both those groupings and they say the court should better reflect their growing prominence in Israeli society.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Matthew Jones

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