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Israel Bar Association taps Muhamad Naamneh to serve on Judicial Selection Committee

The national council of the Israel Bar Association (IBA) on Monday reelected attorney Muhamad Naamneh to serve as one of its two representatives on the critical Judicial Selection Committee, alongside member Ilana Saker.

IBA head Amit Becher said he was “very proud” of Naamneh’s selection to serve on the nine-member panel which selects judges for all courts, including the Supreme Court. Five votes are needed to appoint lower court judges and seven for Supreme Court justices.

Naamneh, a Nazareth-based attorney with his own practice, has served as chairman of the IBA’s northern district since 2019, and as a member of the Judicial Selection Committee since 2020.

Becher, an outspoken opponent of the coalition’s judicial overhaul, was elected in a landslide as head of the IBA in June, guaranteeing that the government would not be able to control the Judicial Selection Committee in its current form and thus dominate the appointments process.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the architect of the coalition’s contentious judicial overhaul, has declined to convene the committee, despite the fact that numerous positions on courts around the country need filling, and petitions have been filed against him in the High Court of Justice to compel him to do so.

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The committee has not met to appoint new judges in over a year. Levin appears to be seeking to delay convening the committee until he can fulfill his plans to revamp the panel’s composition in a way that will give the government greater power over appointments.

Levin has sought greater political control over judicial appointments to rebalance the court, in his words, by placing conservative justices on the bench, after years of alleged progressive activism.

Legislation giving the government almost total control over the selection of judges was frozen in March.

“I call on Minister Levin to swiftly convene the committee. There is a critical need for judges and every day that the committee does not convene constitutes legal malfeasance against the public,” Becher said on Monday after the vote.

Earlier this month, far-right lawmaker Yitzhak Kroizer from the Otzma Yehudit party was selected to serve as the hardline coalition’s representative, garnering cross-Knesset support with 86 votes out of 120. Lawmaker Karine Elharrar from the opposition’s Yesh Atid party was chosen in June, during the Knesset’s first attempt to staff the panel. Coalition infighting sabotaged the vote, leading to a failure to select a coalition representative.

The coalition and the opposition traditionally have one representative MK apiece on the committee

Last week, Yesh Atid and the Movement for Quality Government in Israel watchdog group petitioned the High Court to order Levin to convene the critical panel.

The Yesh Atid petition argued that Levin “lacks the authority” to decide not to convene the highly sensitive Judicial Selection Committee, while the watchdog used the basis that Levin’s behavior amounts to an illegitimate abuse of authority.

The petitions claim that Levin, unable to appoint judges unilaterally, has instead refused to convene the panel altogether, holding up bench appointments nationwide.

According to reports, Levin was keen for the Knesset to rush passage of a law restricting the “reasonableness” doctrine last week, fearing that the High Court could use that very legal mechanism to compel him to convene the committee.

The controversial law, passed July 24 despite widespread opposition and criticism, bars the court from using the reasonableness doctrine against ministerial decisions, meaning the court will need to find another basis should it order Levin to convene the committee.

The court is also set to review the legality of the new law itself in deliberations starting September 12.

Yesh Atid’s petition argues that Levin’s refusal to convene the committee represents “a blatant violation of the duty of trustworthiness and fairness incumbent upon the respondents.” It accuses Levin of using “inappropriate considerations rooted in the desire of the justice minister to prevent the routine activity of this very important committee.”

The concept of “inappropriate considerations” is a legal doctrine in administrative law that would allow the court to nullify government decisions it finds were made based on considerations outside the essence of the authority under discussion. The doctrine has yet to be developed and has never been used by the High Court.

The petition cites a July 5 exchange in which Levin told Labor MK Gilad Kariv, who challenged the minister as to when he would convene the committee, that it depended on the attitude of opposition lawmakers.

“The time has come to fix things after so many years of deficiencies and very serious failures… If there will be an insistence on clinging onto the current, broken system it will take a little longer, but in the end MK Kariv, things will change because they simply have to change,” Levin told Kariv.

The petition argues that judge vacancies are the only valid consideration for whether to convene the Judicial Selection Committee.

There are currently 21 unfilled court seats, along with 11 new positions and another 22 judges who will retire by the end of the year and whose seats will need filling, according to the filing.

The Movement for Quality Government based its request to order Levin to convene the committee on the judicial doctrine of “abuse of authority,” which it says Levin is engaging in for the sake of “his personal and political considerations.”