An expanded seven-justice panel of the Supreme Court ruled 5-2 on Monday that an Ethiopian toddler would remain with his adoptive non-Ethiopian parents, reversing an earlier decision by a three-justice panel of the same court.
In extraordinary circumstances, such as this case was deemed, the Supreme Court can effectively appeal its own decision, by expanding from its standard three-justice panel to a larger number of justices. The granting of a special appeal is rare, but not as rare as the justices ultimately overruling the court’s own earlier decision.
Despite interventions by Ethiopian Yesh Atid MK Shimon Solomon and two Ethiopian-linked NGOs, the court followed the advice of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and of social services, saying that, “one cannot turn back the clock and tear the child away from the only family that he has ever had.”
The boy was taken by social services at his birth due to his mother’s mental instability.
Since then he has been living mostly with his adoptive family.
His biological mother, however, requested that custody of the nearly three-year-old be transferred to his aunt and uncle instead. His aunt who sought custody was found by social services to be inexperienced and with inadequate economic means to raise him properly.
The court criticized some of the groups attempting to intervene in the case as taking overly “ethnocentric overtones” over the issue of the boy living with Ethiopian or non-Ethiopian parents, when the key issues should have been the “best interests of the child” and what “his future” would look like, not “his past.”
The five who voted to grant custody to the adoptive parents were Deputy Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, as well as justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Esther Hayot, Salim Joubran and Neal Hendel. The two justices who voted for the toddler to return to his Ethiopian biological family were Edna Arbel and Yitzhak Amit.
The reversal on Monday represented a return to the ruling in favor of the adoptive family made by the District Court and the Family Court, which were overruled by the three-justice Supreme Court panel in August.
The toddler’s adoptive family can now make their adoption permanent.
Media reports indicated that the toddler’s biological family said they would seek another special appeal on the seven-justice panel’s decision.
Questioned as to whether there was precedent for such a procedure (since technically the largest Supreme Court panel is nine justices, not seven), neither the court spokesman not the Justice Ministry spokesman could provide an answer.