Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at the Israeli Bar Association on June 10, 2019.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)
New acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana threw down the gauntlet to the legal establishment on Sunday, saying in his first speech that “there are judges in Jerusalem, but there are also legislators.”
Speaking at the Israel Bar Association’s swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem, Ohana emphatically signaled that he will at the very least continue the path of his predecessor, Ayelet Shaked, who was in a constant battle with the legal establishment he now heads.
Sounding out themes of “fixing” the “undemocratic” legal establishment and changing the method for appointing judges to create “more pluralism and transparency,” the only question seemed to be whether Ohana would go even farther than Shaked.
Shaked worked hard over the last four years to reshape the Supreme Court, appointing 40% of its current membership and succeeding in adding twice as many conservative justices (though they still lack a majority) as prior ministers who tried to appoint conservative justices.
However, Shaked failed to pass the circumvention bill to limit Supreme Court authority, and publicly deferred to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on virtually all issues relating to prosecuting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In contrast, some believe that Ohana may support Netanyahu against prosecution by Mandelblit, and may pursue legislation to help insulate the prime minister from prosecution as long as he remains in office.
There are limits on what Ohana can do as acting justice minister, whose appointment is technically only temporary until a new government is sworn in after elections on September 17.
Ohana did not get specific on which pieces of legislation he would press forward to change the separation of powers and restore what he said was a lack of public faith in the judiciary, but his broad message was unmistakable.
He slammed those who resist politicians’ criticisms of the legal establishment as “the end of democracy,” and said that even if he would criticize “in a spirit of respect,” he would make sure that “that which needs to be fixed is fixed.”
In contrast to Ohana, Israel Bar Association acting President Avi Himi and other legal officials said that defending the Supreme Court from politicization by politicians was a sacred cause.
They welcomed Ohana warmly in his first event as justice minister, but expressed hope that he would change his views and become more sympathetic to the legal establishment.
Legal officials said that “at the root of the legal establishment is the respect for the rule of law,” and that recent politicians’ calls for reforms are nothing more than disguised attempts at undermining the rule of law where it bothers them or the prime minister.
Ohana was not initially listed as a top-tier candidate for justice minister.
However, after Yariv Levin refused to take the post on a temporary basis – he wants the job, but only once it is a permanent position confirmed by the government that comes with full justice minister powers – Netanyahu reportedly opted to give the post to Ohana as a reward for defending him from public corruption allegations.
Ohana has also been celebrated as the country’s first openly gay senior minister.
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