With Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked unveiling a list of 28 candidates for four spots due to open on the Supreme Court in 2017, here is an inside look at some of the potential leading candidates.
The truth is that no one really knows who the leading candidates are, because a nine-member panel including Shaked, three political officials, two Israel Bar Association members and three Supreme Court justices make up the panel, and they compete for influence over the process.
Usually the sides negotiate and cut deals, each side getting to pick some of the justices they want. But tension between the sides is at a high point this time, with Shaked threatening to push through her candidates without the justices’ consent and the justices threatening to walk away from negotiations and paint Shaked as impeding judicial independence.
Shaked is known to want conservative justices to try to remake the court so that future Supreme Courts will less often veto government policy and Knesset laws.
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and Deputy Supreme Court President Elyakim Rubinstein actually are not “activist” justices and are considered far more middle of the road than former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak. Justice Salim Joubran is considered more in the activist camp.
But overall, all three justices – who are stepping down in 2017, along with Justice Zvi Zilbertal – would prefer independent judges who are ready to declare Knesset laws unconstitutional if deemed necessary.
The Israel Bar Association – which has traditionally voted with the justices but has been less predictable over the last 10 years – has its own preferences, often preferring justices who are more open to defense lawyers’ concerns.
In any case, here is information about some of the leading candidates: The one seat which most clearly has two candidates is the Israeli-Arab reserved seat which Joubran is vacating. All sources agree that the race for this seat is between Tel Aviv District Court judges Khalid Kabuv and George Kara.
Kabuv would be the first Israeli- Arab who is also a Muslim to be appointed to the court.
The Israel Bar Association is not commenting on the record, but sources indicate it prefers him as they consider him both brilliant and independent. They also view Kara as smart, but not as smart as Kabuv, and too strict with a reputation for almost never acquitting defendants.
In contrast, the justices favor Kara, who as a Christian Israeli- Arab, is also said to have the support of the Vatican. Kara is viewed as more likely to be a team player within the Supreme Court and to fall in line with the justices’ consensus.
Shaked is considered neutral on the issue, and some say she may seek to cut a deal with the justices where she and other political officials on the panel support Kara in exchange for her getting one of her favored candidates appointed.
Her favorite candidate is known to be Bar-Ilan Prof. Gidon Sapir.
Fewer lawyers are familiar with Sapir since he is in academia, but he is one of the leading firebrand criticizers of judicial activism. He would be a likely no vote on virtually any major issue where the court was considering declaring a Knesset law unconstitutional.
Lod District Court Judge Menachem Finklestein is highly thought of by all sides, particularly as he served as both an IDF judge and as the IDF’s magistrate advocate general, a post that has led to several later Supreme Court appointments.
At the same time, he has no “lobby” rooting for him, and he is older. While some consider that a benefit in terms of wisdom, others consider it a problem as there is a preference to bring in justices who will serve for a number of years.
Several sources also had positive comments about Tel Aviv District Court Judge Gilad Neuthal regarding his talent and seriousness, but it was unclear if had support from either Shaked or the justices. Some said the justices might fear his ruling too much from his gut.
Tel Aviv District Court Judge Ruth Ronen and Haifa District Court Judge Ron Sokol are also discussed as leading contenders in the eyes of the justices. But Shaked along with right-wing legal activists may want to keep Ronen off the bench, following a 2011 case involving a left-wing NGO which received funding from the New Israel Fund, where her husband was a top official.
Ronen was cleared as not having known about the conflict of interest, but activists on the Right believe it was a conflict and saw the incident as showing a left-wing bias.
Sokol may also be opposed on a different conflict of interest issue – his being a son-in-law of former Supreme Court justice Theodor Or.
Few sources were willing to go on record for fear of alienating judges who do not receive appointments, but top defense lawyer and bar association official Zion Amir, in his private capacity, gave high compliments to Shaarei Mishpat College Dean Dr. Aviad Hacohen.
Amir called him a “scholar of the highest caliber, a true man of learning who has written many good books and articles, heads a law school and is also an active legal practitioner.”
He also praised Hacohen’s values and said his appointment “would be a blessing for the public.”
Amir also praised Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen as being a judge who cared about social justice and showed true courage in her decisions. He remarked that she had impressed lawyers for years, dating back to when she served as an assistant to former chief justice Barak.
Amir also expressed support for Lod District Court Judge Yifat Biton, particularly since she also has fought for social justice, and her appointment would be a sign of progress for the periphery.