A courtroom filled to capacity in the morning, for the farewell ruling by outgoing Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, and a reception hall at the President’s Residence packed with the largest number of people ever at a sit-down event there, in addition to which people without seats lined the walls, testified not only to the popularity of outgoing Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, and incoming President Esther Hayut, but also to a need on the part of participants to witness the end of an era Naor, who was born in October, 1947, is the last Supreme Court President to be born before the establishment of the State of Israel.
Hayut was born in October, 1953 and was sworn in ten days after 64th birthday.
At the swearing-in ceremony at the President’s Residence, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who had previously opposed Hayut’s appointment, said Hayut represented the symbol of transition from Holocaust to rebirth.
Hayut who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said she was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but in a Herzliya transit camp. The family’s resources were meager, she said, but there was a lot of warmth in the house and everyone who entered was respected and made to feel welcome.
Aware of the friction that existed between Naor and Shaked, and knowing that Shaked was not in favor of her succession, Hayut said she hoped that she and Shaked could work together in mutual respect to build up the justice system.
Relating to attempts to harm the status of judges and thereby that of the court, Hayut declared that there must be a joint effort to ensure that there would not be even a crack.
Naor, who in the morning had spontaneously embraced Hayut in court, did so again in the afternoon after Hayut received her appointment certificate from President Reuven Rivlin.
Naor and Hayut did not come from outside the ranks of the legal profession. Both began their careers as judges in the Magistrates Court, then the District Court and finally the Supreme Court.
It was noted by several speakers both in the morning and the afternoon, that each had the experience, the knowledge, the wisdom, the sensitivity, the integrity and the compassion required to serve as president of the Supreme Court, in addition to which each was deeply committed to upholding democracy and human rights.
Naor said there was no-one more suitable for the role than Hayut, but warned her that her life henceforth would be ruled by her cell phone and listed some of the many people who regularly call her several times a day.
She told Hayut that she had to be accessible 24/7.
She also pledged that all five of Hayut’s living predecessors Meir Shamgar, Aharon Barak, Dorit Beinisch, Asher Grunis and Naor herself would stand behind her and support her all the way.
Shamgar, 92, attended both the morning and afternoon events.
Rivlin, who is profoundly disturbed by attempts to politicize everything in the country including the court, emphasized as he has done lately, the need to realize that a public servant is exactly what the words convey – a servant of the public.
Presidents of the Supreme Court, Rivlin said, are the highest ranking of appointed public servants.
“They are public servants with a long-term responsibility, which is embedded in the protection and preservation of the basic principles of the State of Israel.
“They are servants of the public, who do not have to answer to any authority other than the authority of the law, as stated in the Basic Law on the Judiciary.
The outgoing and incoming presidents are public servants in the fullest sense of the term,” he said.
Disputes between the legislature and the judiciary in recent months have been a testing time for Israel, Rivlin said, urging the government, the Knesset and the Supreme Court to enter into a civilized dialogue to delineate the authority of each and to formulate and enact suitable legislation.
After thanking Naor for what she has done to preserve the Rule of Law and congratulating Hayut on her sterling professional record, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there is a healthy kind of friction between the executive branch, legislature, and the judiciary.
“This kind of tension exists in every democracy,” he said, citing examples from France, Britain, and Germany.
“We have to look around us at the developments in every democracy, and see what the dividing line is between the executive branch, the legislature, and the judiciary. It’s changing all the time,” the prime minister said.
What mustn’t change, Netanyahu emphasized, is a strong and independent court. Disagreements are legitimate he said, so long as they are part of democracy and not the destruction of democracy.
Earlier in the day, at the Supreme Court building, Shaked, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Inon and chairman of the Bar Association Efi Naveh ran through several of her landmark cases during their farewell addresses to Naor, eliciting smiles and nods from her colleagues.
It was also pointed out that in as much as she was sensitive, compassionate and even soft-hearted, Naor was fearless in her rulings and had no compunction in sentencing public figures and socially prominent personalities.
During the ceremony at the President’s Residence, a noisy crowd of demonstrators from South Tel Aviv stood across the road yelling “Shame! Shame! We are people too!” Following the ceremony, Rivlin went out to meet them, listened to their grievances and told them everything was being done to a find a solution to their problem, but that it takes time.
Rivlin also assured them that they had the right to be there just as he does.