Committee meets to decide future of Israel's Supreme Court

Deadlock may lead to separation of powers battle

February 22, 2017 10:02
3 minute read.

The Supreme Court, Jerusalem. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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The Judicial Selection Committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss the appointment of four new justices to the Supreme Court.

The selection of all four at once puts in question the path the Supreme Court will take on fateful issues such as the settlements, migrants, natural gas and human rights, for decades to come.

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Despite the anticipation, the meeting may end with no appointments if the committee is unable to agree on four candidates.
If this is the case, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked may move forward on a months-old threat to pass a Knesset law to empower the committee to select justices even without any support from the block of current Supreme Court justices on the committee.

The three blocks on the committee are the justices block of Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Deputy President Elyakim Rubinstein and Salim Joubran; the political block of Shaked, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, MK Nurit Koren (Likud) and MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu); and the Israel Bar Association block of Ilana Sakar and Khaled Zoabi.

In November, just days after Naor dealt a public blow to Shaked by slamming her treatment of the court, the justice minister shifted attention by publishing a list of 28 candidates for the four Supreme Court slots opening up in 2017.

Naor, Rubinstein, Joubran and Justice Zvi Zilbertal will all be stepping down at different points in the coming year.
Though their retirement dates are spread out over several months, the committee is expected to select their replacements all at once.
Shaked called the group of candidates on her list “among the finest judges and jurists” in Israel.

Earlier in November, in an unprecedented sign of open war, Naor severed relations with Shaked regarding negotiations about appointments of future justices over the justice minister’s “gun on the table” threats she has made through the media about pushing a bill through the Knesset allowing her and the political echelon to appoint judges against the Supreme Court’s wishes.

For several days, stories have emerged without Shaked’s explicit approval, but with implied confirmations by sources close to her, that she would back a bill by Ilatov allowing appointments of four new justices to the Supreme Court with a mere majority of the committee – even if all of the justices on the committee oppose the candidates.

Several years ago, the Knesset passed a law stating that seven of the nine members of the committee must support a candidate to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Though there are more politicians on the committee than justices, the presence of three justices on the committee – Naor, Rubinstein and Joubran – has meant that, effectively, the Supreme Court’s consent is needed to get an appointment through.
According to media reports, the central points of contention involve Bar-Ilan University Prof. Gideon Sapir or other similar conservative jurists, who Shaked prefers and the justices reject; and Tel Aviv District Court Judge Ruth Ronen and Haifa District Court Judge Ron Sokol or other judges who “toe the line” of their judicial superiors, who the justices prefer and Shaked rejects.
In some cases, there are also disagreements between the Israel Bar Association and the justices.

Meanwhile, Tel Aviv District Court Judges Khaled Kabuv, said to be preferred by the bar association, and George Kara, said to be preferred by the justices, are on the list as the most likely replacements for Joubran, who was filling a spot as the court’s Israeli Arab justice.

Esther Hayot will replace Naor in October after a nearly three-year reign.

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