(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The High Court of Justice rejected a petition on Wednesday by a right-wing NGO that sought to compel the court’s president, Miriam Naor, to attend a ceremony celebrating 50 years of settlements.
Justice Uri Shoham wrote that Naor’s decision not to send a court representative was valid, to avoid “issues in public dispute and politics,” and that affirming her decision was important “to uphold the court’s independence.”
Naor had earlier defended her decision to keep court representatives away from the Gush Etzion celebration of settlement in Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights against a petitions filed by NGO Regavim, by calling the ceremony politically one-sided and relating to an issue in public dispute.
President Reuven Rivlin, the Zionist Union party and most of the Yesh Atid party also said they would boycott Wednesday’s ceremony.
Various concerns have been put forward, including that the ceremony might take a political turn, either pro-settlement position in the sense of opposing any evacuation of settlements in the future, or becoming a show of support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud.
In addition, the court is currently hearing arguments about whether it should strike down the Knesset’s Settlements Regulations Law – which would retroactively legalize 4,000 unauthorized settlement housing units built on private Palestinian land, in exchange for compensation – as unconstitutional.
The statement was careful to note that Naor had made the decision before receiving a request from Meretz MK Esawi Frej that the court decline participation in the ceremony.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday said he regretted Naor’s decision.
He said he found Naor’s decision “surprising against the backdrop of the many years tradition of participation of the judicial branch in state ceremonies, including the ceremony marking the unification of Jerusalem.”
He said the decision surprised him even more since it is taking place in the Etzion Bloc, viewed by most Israelis as a consensus part of Israel even in any peace deal in which parts of the West Bank might be given to the Palestinians. He questioned whether the High Court could handle settlement-related cases without bias.
Naor had said avoiding the ceremony was the only way the court could avoid showing bias.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and others also criticized Naor’s explanation.
The Movement of Quality of Government for Israel put out a statement saying that it believed Naor was avoiding the ceremony to avoid being seen as taking a political side, but that she should reconsider now that declining to attend is being perceived as taking the side of the Left.
It is unclear when Shoham will render a decision, given that the ceremony took place on Wednesday.