[1/4]Amit Becher and other private Israeli lawyers protest Netanyahu's government court reform in what they call "a political threat to the judicial system and democracy" outside the Tel Aviv District Court, Israel January 12, 2023. REUTERS/Corinna Kern/File Photo

JERUSALEM, June 20 (Reuters) - Israeli lawyers held a leadership election on Tuesday with an eye on candidates' potential influence over the make-up of a panel for selecting judges, which is at the core of a contested bid by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to overhaul the courts.

The Israel Bar Association provides two of the Judicial Appointments Committee's nine members. The others are a mix of Supreme Court justices, cabinet ministers and parliamentarians meant to encourage give-and-take in bench picks.

Netanyahu's religious-nationalist coalition wants to expand the panel to give the government more clout - among reform proposals that have sparked unprecedented nationwide protests and brought unusually intense public scrutiny of the Bar's role.

Among candidates for Bar chairman are Amit Becher, who has openly identified with the anti-reform demonstrations, and Efi Naveh, a confidant of a conservative former justice minister who championed reining in perceived over-reach by the Supreme Court.

Netanyahu has not commented on the Bar election, whose results are due on Wednesday. It has been front-page news in Israel and featured a spray of campaign robocalls and text messages - including to non-lawyers - by at least one candidate.


Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich came out against Becher, branding him "a prominent leftist, among leaders of... the unbridled, extremist, quarrelsome and combative chaos on the streets in recent months", in remarks to reporters on Monday.

Becher denies having a partisan objective, saying lawyers of all stripes back his pledge to prevent a "political takeover by the government of the Judicial Appointments Committee". Naveh has said that, if elected, he would be nobody's "proxy".

Netanyahu announced he would resume the judicial overhaul this week after suspending it in March to enable compromise negotiations - so-far fruitless - with opposition parties. They accuse Netanyahu of seeking to restrict the courts even as he argues his innocence in a long-running corruption trial.

The coalition argues that the reforms would balance out the branches of government, and plans on Wednesday to begin work on a fresh bill to limit some Supreme Court powers.

(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of candidate's name in paragraph 4)

Writing by Dan Williams

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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