Jerusalem (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition moved on Wednesday to delay picking two new members of a panel that appoints judges, angering opposition parties who had expected to be given a seat.
Opposition parties said the move could jeopardise talks on a compromise over Netanyahu’s proposed judicial changes, which have triggered unprecedented protests and a fall in the shekel currency.
“Netanyahu has lost control of his government and is being held hostage by extremists,” centrist leader Yair Lapid said as the voting went on in parliament. “He is destroying Israel’s democracy, our economy, our security and the unity of our society.”
The composition of the nine-member panel that selects judges, including to the Supreme Court, is one of the main sources of friction in the government’s judicial overhaul plan which opponents say threatens the rule of law.
Parliament was meant to pick two members of the panel on Wednesday, traditionally including one from the government and one from the opposition. But Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious coalition announced that it would vote against all candidates. If none are selected, a new vote must be held within 30 days.
Opposition leaders accused Netanyahu of going back on a pledge to ensure an opposition member was selected, putting the compromise talks in immediate danger.
Netanyahu urged the opposition not to abandon the talks, being shepherded by President Isaac Herzog.
The shekel weakened more than 2% before regaining slightly to trade 1.4% lower at 1130 GMT. The main indexes on Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (.ta35 and .ta125) edged slightly down.
The judicial drive, announced in January only a week into Netanyahu’s return to office, set off one of Israel’s worst political crises in years, with critics at home and abroad dubbing it a threat to the very nature of Israel’s democracy.
Advocates of the proposed overhaul say the Supreme Court is elitist, left-leaning and overreaching, and elected officials should have more power in picking the bench.
Western allies, including Washington, have urged Netanyahu to pursue broad consensus over reforms to the justice system.
Compromise talks have so far yielded little, and the stakes are rising with two Supreme Court judges retiring in coming months