(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Safeguarding democracy, upholding human rights, protecting the weak and maintaining public confidence in the judicial process were the focal points of a swearing- in ceremony for 24 judges and court registrars – half of them female – at the President’s Residence in the capital on Monday.
It was the first swearing-in ceremony for President Reuven Rivlin since he took office in July.
Rivlin, a lawyer by profession and a 1964 alumnus of the Hebrew University Law School, expressed confidence in the judicial process even when rulings by the court might be unpopular, perceived to be unfair and difficult for the public to accept.
He quoted the late prime minister Menachem Begin, who famously declared, “There are judges in Jerusalem.”
Rivlin cited rulings related to asylum-seekers, core studies in the haredi schools and national service.
A strong, independent, courageous, opinionated and occasionally rebellious and self-reliant court is the pulse of life of a normal democratic society, said Rivlin, who specified the Supreme Court’s vital role in protecting democracy and human rights.
Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni likewise related to human rights, with Grunis pointing out that the Supreme Court is often the place of last resort for the individual and for minority groups in battling the majority.
Grunis and Livni oppose efforts by the Knesset to override rulings by the Supreme Court when it sits as the High Court of Justice and hears petitions, as for instance in the case of indefinite detention of African asylum-seekers in the Holot open detention facility, or the automatic yearlong detention of new asylum-seeking arrivals from African countries.
In any case, where the Knesset is unwilling to accept a ruling and is determined to override the court, it should require significantly more votes than an absolute majority of 61, said Grunis.
Livni endorsed not only the supremacy of the court but also its independence. She said that she would fight all those who believe that a Knesset majority outweighs a court decision. Such an attitude undermines and endangers democracy, she said.
“I will not allow the Knesset to override the Supreme Court,” she vowed.
Livni suggested that the nation do some soul-searching. “We have to be honest,” she said, explaining that among many Jews, Arabs are seen as the enemy; and among some Arabs, the government of Israel is perceived as a foreign ruler. Terming the situation “very dangerous,” Livni said it must be stopped before it explodes. The difference should not be between Jew and Arab but between “those who practice violence and those who are opposed to it,” she said, underscoring that “no one is above the law including a president of the state who left this building and went to prison.”
Rivlin, Grunis and Livni each had high praise for former attorney-general Menahem Mazuz, the only Supreme Court appointee among the 24 judges and registrars being sworn in. Livni fought hard to get the appointments committee to agree to name Mazuz to the Supreme Court, and grinned like a Cheshire cat when he took the pledge.
All three praised his integrity and his professionalism throughout an impressive, multi-faceted career in the Justice Ministry.
The fifth of nine children, Mazuz was born in Tunis and was a year old when his family came to Israel and settled in Netivot.
He is descended from renowned rabbis and rabbinical court judges. When serving in the IDF, he was a tank commander. Following his graduation from the Hebrew University, he interned at the Supreme Court and thought he was in heaven. Returning there as a judge, is almost like the closing of a circle, he said when speaking on behalf of all the new appointees.
It was to Mazuz, who was then attorney- general, that Moshe Katsav, then president of the state, complained in 2006 that he was being blackmailed by a former female employee. In a boomerang development, the case turned against him and six months later, Mazuz announced that he would consider charging Katsav with rape, sexual harassment, breach of trust, obstruction of justice, harassment of a witness and fraud. Katsav was indicted in March 2009 and convicted in December 2010. Following appeals that he lost, Katsav began serving a seven-year sentence in December 2011.