The High Court of Justice last week vehemently rejected a petition against
granting the Israel Prize to Shimon Mizrahi, legendary chairman of Maccabi Tel
Aviv’s basketball club.
This wasn’t the first time the Israel Prize was
contested before the High Court, nor was it the first time the court declined to
intervene. What made the latest decision memorable was the sharply worded
arguments that underpinned the ruling.
Three Hapoel fans had petitioned
the High Court, claiming a conflict of interest because the blue-ribbon panel
that picked Mizrahi included Tal Brody, a past Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball
The three justices – Asher Grunis, Edna Arbel and Hanan Meltzer –
did more than just reject the petition.
Grunis lamented the fact that “as
sure as Independence Day rolls around each year, so it is sure that petitions
would be lodged with this court against the choice of Israel Prize laureates. It
is impossible in this country to receive a prize without this resulting in
litigation. This is more in the realm of social psychology than of
Thus the court signaled, more unmistakably than ever,
that it is climbing down from the blanket everything-is-justiciable philosophy
that prevailed during the court presidency of Aharon Barak.
It was during
the Barak years (1995-2006) that our High Court achieved its dubious reputation
In the words of Robert Bork, one of America’s
prominent critics of judicial activism, “the pride of place in the international
judicial deformation of democratic government goes not to the US, nor to Canada,
but to the state of Israel.”
IN HIS book Coercing Values: The Worldwide
Rule of Judges, Bork argues that, “Israel has set a standard for judicial
imperialism that can probably never be surpassed and one devoutly hopes will
never be equaled elsewhere.”
But without fanfare, Israel may be
ever-so-slowly turning the corner. In this context the Mizrahi judgment
constitutes a noteworthy landmark.
The floodgates were flung wide by the
court itself in 1997, when it referred the decision to confer the Israel Prize
on Ma’ariv editor Shmuel Schnitzer back to the awards committee, which then
Schnitzer was disqualified because of one op-ed
– in a prolific 59-year career – in which he warned against the high incidence
of HIV among the Falash Mura. From that precedent onward, petitions
In another controversial case in 2008, when the choice
Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell – one of the bluntest spokesmen of Israel’s far Left – was
contested, the court ostensibly refrained from interfering but its position was
deemed political. Sternhell had recommended storming Ofra with tanks and advised
the Palestinians to direct terror attacks only against settlers.
Grunis significantly focused on the justiciability issue. The High Court, he
maintains, mustn’t butt in except in very rare cases – for instance, ones
A glut of litigation will only chip away at the
prize, undermine the court’s prestige and confer specious validity on begrudging
He adds: “Laureates find themselves on the defensive,
as if accused of a felony, and are forced to hire legal services.”
the court imposed a NIS 40,000 fine on the petitioners, half of which will
compensate Mizrahi for his court expenses.
The philosophy of limitless
justiciability, reckons Grunis, “might well lead to a situation whereby nobody
in Israel would be considered worthy of the Israel Prize.”
anyone to preoccupy the court with frivolous petitions, “which must be addressed
posthaste, robs the court of valuable time and forces it put on hold scheduled
cases which ought to be accorded priority.”
Here Grunis touches on the
sensitive issue of the petitioners’ standing. Barak allowed almost anyone to
appeal almost anything, even without meaningful personal involvement or
sufficient connection to the case at hand.
This permitted a rash of
petitions about generalized or presumed grievances.
The court went on to
laud Mizrahi’s “voluntary work and high standard of quality management in
We agree with Justice Meltzer’s bottom line: “Let
potential petitioners learn two lessons: 1. Begrudging isn’t obligatory and, 2.
Leave the Israel Prize and its laureates in peace.”
It’s about time.