Four years into her position, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has won recognition from both supporters and opponents as an almost unmatched legal warrior.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, responding to a series of recent warnings by the International Criminal Court about alleged war crimes, Shaked said, “I suggest they do not get into political issues.”
In April, July and earlier in October, the ICC Prosecution issued warnings and statements to both Israel and Hamas regarding the ongoing Gaza border conflict, relating to 2014 Gaza war Palestinian victims and regarding the Khan al-Ahmar saga.
Confronted about whether Israeli dialogue with the ICC Prosecution has failed to avoid problems, Shaked said that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israelis, since it is not a state party to the Rome Statute.
She suggested that it deal with “mass atrocities which shock the conscience” in countries like Myanmar and Venezuela and to stop wasting its time “with the only democracy in the Middle East.”
The always composed and sophisticated justice minister added that Israel “has a very strong legal system and is a state based on the rule of law,” and that the “best thing they [the ICC] can do is to publish” Israel’s approach to complex international law questions “around the world.”
Discussing the Post’s exclusive report in June that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit will decide to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the early months of 2019, she was less comfortable, but said, “We do not know. We hope it does not happen.”
Hedging, she said that the law may allow a prime minister to continue to serve until he is convicted and that her position would “depend on the facts.”
Pressed that former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein had insisted on publishing his decision to indict Avigdor Liberman before the 2013 election and that Mandelblit has made it clear he will not rush to do the same before the election regarding Netanyahu, she appeared conflicted, but said, “I trust the attorney-general to publish the decision at the time he believes is right.”
MOVING ON to a range of fights over the future of the High Court of Justice and the legal system in general, Shaked was questioned about her recent statement that Bayit Yehudi would insist that support for a law to override High Court vetoes
of Knesset laws be a part of the next coalition agreement.
She was also confronted with the fact that Mandelblit and other influential moderates like former deputy High Court president Elyakim Rubinstein oppose her override initiative based on a mere 61-MK vote, and at most might support the idea with a 70-MK vote.
Growing animated, Shaked said adamantly that she “would not agree to 70 MKs, it would be better not to pass anything.”
The often calculating justice minister did acknowledge that without Mandelblit and other moderates’ support, it would be hard to pass a court circumvention law, and that she might not actually succeed in making it a condition for joining the coalition.
Specifically, she accused Kulanu of blocking the law when she tried to get it through the Knesset recently.
Others have pointed out that Netanyahu himself could likely have forced the law through, if he had really wanted it.
Overall, she said that “it depends on how much political power we have” following the next election, signaling she still hoped to roll back much of the expansion of the court’s power by former High Court president Aharon Barak and former justice minister Dan Meridor.
Regarding the related debate over how the High Court will handle a pending petition to strike the Jewish Nation-State Law as unconstitutional, Shaked was asked what she would do if the court neither confirmed nor struck the law, but used its own interpretation of the law to filter out some of its more controversial aspects.
She is adamant that the court is powerless to strike the law, since the law has quasi-constitutional status as a Basic Law.
Shaked said she is cognizant of this scenario and it is “why I say all the time that I put the appointment of justices” to the High Court as the highest priority.
She stated that justices “put their worldview into their interpretations,” and that she had succeeded in changing the makeup of the court to becoming more conservative by appointing 40% of the present occupants.
At this point, the Post noted that a recent panel of three conservative justices, two of whom she appointed, angered the Right when it increased the jail sentence of a border policeman who was convicted of the negligent homicide of a Palestinian minor in 2014.
Shaked responded that “you cannot get 100%” of what you want in court rulings, no matter what, but that broadly speaking the court’s decisions are trending conservative because the justices are “more conservative than four years ago.”
ADDRESSING THE question of amendments to the Nation-State Law to mollify the anger of the Druze community that it is not mentioned in the text, she said that Netanyahu had appointed a task force to take on the issue.
Pressed that Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett had been the first politician to push for an amendment and that it seemed that now he had backed off, she said that she was working on the issue with the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and that her party had suggested solutions.
The justice minister has also been very active in campaigning to get social media giants to better police their users’ posting of terrorist content, and she compliments Facebook and Google (“much less with Twitter”) for removing “almost everything” Israel requests them to take down.
But she said that the danger of Israeli elections being hacked and of the public’s vulnerability to false social media and bot (fake machine accounts) campaigns are “very worrying and scary.”
She said that Israel’s cyber authorities “can defend against systems being hacked,” but that it “is very hard to deal with bots” and false social media campaigns, noting that Israeli politicians also engaged in the latter.
Next, Shaked discussed a recent law she helped pass that moved some West Bank land dispute litigation issues between Jewish settlers and Palestinians from the High Court into the district courts.
Though mostly the Left criticized the law as incremental annexation, viewing district courts as less sympathetic to Palestinians, various government experts said that the law may ultimately unintentionally help Palestinians.
These experts say that most Palestinians who have been going to the High Court over land disputes are represented by human rights groups with sufficient funds to fight in the district courts and continue on appeal to the High Court.
That would mean that Jewish settler attempts to evict Palestinians would take longer because there would be two rounds of legal battles.
Shaked dismissed these arguments, saying backers of the law had studied the issue and believed that at most 10% of Palestinians would appeal to the High Court, adding that many cases involved attempts to evict Jewish settlers, such that the district courts’ involvement would only be a benefit.
Finally, Shaked was questioned about her position regarding religious Jewish women serving in the IDF, in light of many rabbis in Bayit Yehudi opposing it as immodest.
Recalling that she first connected with the religious Zionist movement through Orthodox friends she met in the army, she said that she would always defend religious women’s right to serve in the army.
At the same time, she said she would equally defend their right to do national service, “which also does a lot to help Israeli society,” and it did not appear to be an issue that she was looking to take a lead on in either direction.
Four years into her role as justice minister, and with an unusual number of political wins under her belt, Shaked views her work as successful, but seeks another term in the same role to win on initiatives that have not passed to date.
Shaked will be one of the featured speakers at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference taking place on November 21 at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem.
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