Standoff Between High Court and Knesset Comes to a Head

In the days when the chieftains ruled, there was a famine in the land; and a man of Beit Lechem in Yehuda, with his wife and two sons, went to reside in the country of Moab. Ruth 1:1 (The Israel Bible™)

Right-wing politicians were outraged with Israel’s High Court of Justice on Thursday after it ordered the Knesset to go ahead with the necessary vote to replace Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who dropped a political bombshell on Wednesday when he opted to resign rather than comply with a court order to call a parliament vote on his own replacement. Edelstein is the first Knesset speaker in Israel’s history to resign.

As per the Knesset’s bylaws, until lawmakers name a replacement, the eldest among them will serve as speaker. In this case, the role falls to Labor Party Leader Amir Peretz. He is expected to order the Arrangements Committee, which oversees parliament’s operations in the interim between two governments, to call a vote on the matter. The right-wing-religious bloc, comprising the Likud, Yamina (an alliance of the Jewish Home, National Union and New Right parties) and the haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, has said its members would boycott the vote.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who was tasked by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with forming a coalition following the March 2 elections, would like to install Blue and White MK Meir Cohen as speaker.

Former Justice Minister MK Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) lambasted the High Court’s ruling, tweeting, “The High Court simply invented a nonexistent remedy and ordered the legislator how to proceed. This move is devoid of any legal basis. They [the judges] bypassed the [Knesset’s] bylaws and bypassed Basic Law[: The Knesset]. Like the left keeps saying, democracy is slowly dying.”

Fellow Yamina lawmaker Transportation Minister MK Bezalel Smotrich also attacked the High Court’s decision, saying, “The High Court continues irresponsibly deepens the constitutional crisis we are in. The nature of arrogance is that it’s like a boomerang. The Knesset will not remain indifferent to the High Court’s gross interference in its affairs and it will put an end to it.”

MK Micki Zohar, chairman of the Likud faction, accused the court of political bias, saying, “Now it is official: The High Court and the entire legal system work full-time for the left and the media.”

The time had come, said Zohar, for the Israeli public to make a choice.

“Given the fact that here we have another disgraceful decision by the High Court, there is little wonder that the public’s trust in this institution is decreasing by the minute. It seems the time has come when the public must decide between its elected officials and the legal junta,” he tweeted.

The Movement for Quality Government, which petitioned the High Court to order the vote on Edelstein’s successor, welcomed the decision, saying, “The court did well to defend the honor of the Knesset on the day when the speaker of the Knesset showed only contempt for it. We hope that these dark days will serve as a warning sign for the public and in Israel’s history.”

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.