Coalition steps up attack on Israeli Bar Association after preliminary bill passes

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Coalition steps up attack on Israeli Bar Association after preliminary bill passes

In an interview with Jewish News, Likud's Hanoch Milwidsky, the prime mover behind plans to effectively disband the IBA, branded it “unregulated and irrelevant" and questioned how it spends £21m of annual fees.

Supreme Court Justices arrive for a court hearing in Jerusalem
Supreme Court Justices arrive for a court hearing in Jerusalem

The Israeli politician behind a controversial new bill that would scrap the Israeli Bar Association’s (IBA) seats on the panel that selects judges has stepped up his attack on the organisation, branding it “unregulated and irrelevant”.

The new bill, which passed its preliminary reading on Wednesday, would remove the IBA’s licensing authority and its representation on the committee that selects judges – rendering it toothless.

A yet-to-be-created Lawyers Council – led by a judge chosen by the justice minister – would take over the IBA’s roles, in effect giving ministers ultimate power over who acts as Israeli lawyers.

Amit Becher, a vocal critic of the coalition who was elected to head the IBA last month, branded the bill “thuggish, anti-democratic and absurd,” adding that lawyers could “shut down” the judicial system if it became law.

In an interview with Jewish News in the Knesset, Likud politician and former lawyer Hanoch Milwidsky, the prime mover behind the plan, branded Becher’s umbrella organisation “unregulated and irrelevant”.

Likud politician and former lawyer Hanoch Milwidsky

Speaking just hours before parliamentarians passed the preliminary reading  by 50 votes to 43, Milwidsky told Jewish News: “It is compulsory for Israeli lawyers to pay IBA membership before they can practice. It’s a considerable amount. The IBA receives around 100m shekels (£21million) in fees every year with basically no oversight. It can do whatever it wants with this money.

“I’ve been a lawyer since 2000. The IBA has been completely irrelevant to my professional life. It’s the same for a lot of Israeli lawyers. They don’t feel they get anything for their membership fee.

“What I’m suggesting in my bill is to have lawyer membership situation be the same as, say, accountancy. There would be a legal council, in change of handing out Ministry of Justice licences, which would charge a small fee. It would not collect the millions of shekels the IBA currently does.”

Milwidsky, who is also co-chair of Knesset’s Israel-UK Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group, added: “I’m not talking about the coalition choosing judges. The IBA will still have representatives in the committee that chooses judges. The coalition is planning to change the composition of that committee in a different bill. I want to prevent lawyers from paying an organisation that’s irrelevant to their professional lives.”

Anti-coalition protesters on barricades in Ben Gurion Airport. Credit: Efrat Safran

Laying down a clear challenge to Becher, the MK, who says his children have been harassed by anti-government protesters outside the family’s home, said: “Why is he so afraid of this move? If it is still relevant people will continue to be members. But I’m pretty sure that once this bill has passed that within one month more than 50 percent of its members will quit. That’s what I am taking care of here. The professional life and interest of lawyers. Nothing more.”

Critics view the move against the IBA as the government’s latest assault on the judiciary, which has become a target for Netanyahu’s far-right and strictly- Orthodox coalition partners, after judges gave a series of unwelcome rulings on issues such as the Orthodox military exemption and religious nationalists’ efforts to discriminate against Israeli Arabs.

Milwidsky was speaking to a group of British journalists in a delegation to Israel organised by the ELNET European Leadership Network.

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