It was impossible for participants in the swearing-in ceremony for 21 new judges at Beit Hanassi on Thursday to remain aloof from the fact that judgment was simultaneously being passed elsewhere in the country on former President Moshe Katsav, who during his six-and-a-half year term of office, had presided over similar ceremonies for scores of judges currently serving in courts throughout Israel.
A ceremony of this kind is always a festive event said Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, adding that on this particular occasion it was also a sad day because one could not ignore the verdict that had just been handed down. "We are here in blissful silence, but outside a storm is raging," she said.
Nonetheless she saw it as a victory for democracy and proof that in
Israel all people are equal in the eyes of the law. It was testimony to
the declaration of allegiance which all 21 judges had made only minutes
earlier in the presence of President Shimon Peres pledging "to dispense
justice fairly, not to pervert the law and to show no favor."
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who four-and-half years ago had set the
scene for the opening of the president's Pandora's Box by initially
counseling Katsav to take a complaint that he was being blackmailed by a
former employee to then Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. The situation
backfired, and Katsav subsequently found himselfshifting from the
position of accuser to accused.
Some of the people at Beit Hanassi on Thursday were unashamedly
listening to the verdict on their cell phones instead of focusing on the
ceremony at hand.
However Beit Hanassi employees who had worked there during the Katsav
era instantly went into hiding to avoid being bombarded by the media.
Peres refrained from any direct reference to the Katsav case, but told
the new judges that they were in the front line of the battle for
justice and in the defense of a Jewish and democratic state.
Peres saw no conflict between the two. "There are no two states of
Israel. There is just one State of Israel, and there is only one
justice system. There are not two classes of citizens in Israel. There
is only one class – and all are equal before the law."
Peres went on to say that there is no such thing as partial democracy
that simply consists of elections and no more. Democracy, he said, is a
day to day experience of the essence, the character and the image of the
In this context, he was greatly disturbed by what he termed
"unprecedented harsh and infuriating expressions" against minorities,
foreigners and those who are different.
"This kind of hostility must be stopped," declared Peres. "Such
expressions must not be allowed to destroy the foundations of the State
or to tarnish our society and culture."
He was shocked he said by the vandalizing of minarets and by the damage
done to school buildings, just because they were Arab schools.
He was equally outraged by young Israeli louts out for a night's
entertainment attacking young Arabs simply because they belong to
another ethnic group; and angry at those who incite hatred against
foreigners or Israelis who are non-Jews.
The true character of Israel is enshrined in the Declaration of
Independence, he said, emphasizing that Israel must continue to fight
against racism, discrimination and violence.
The recent phenomenon of racism runs counter to the Biblical commandment
not to forget that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, he said.
Both Peres and Neeman congratulated and lauded Beinisch for the cardinal
role she played in bringing an end to the drawn-out strike by State
Peres also congratulated both Beinisch and Neeman for speeding up the
process of appointing judges. This was the fourth swearing-in ceremony
during 2010, bringing the number of judges appointed during the year to
140. Peres was also glad to see that women and members of minority
sectors were increasingly being appointed to the bench. Of the 21 judges
appointed on Thursday, eleven were women.
The public does not realize the complexities involved in appointing judges, said Beinisch.
Judges today have more than ever to cope with declared Neeman, noting
that caseloads for Israeli judges are among the highest in the world.
He did not want that to be a reason for Israel to enter the Guinness
Book of Records, he said, urging the new judges to deal with their cases
in the swiftest and most efficient manner.
Recently appointed Labor Court President Nili Arad emphasized the
importance of respecting the dignity of all those who become before the
courts, while Ben-Zion Greenberger, newly appointed to the Jerusalem
District Court and the first of the judges to be sworn in stressed the
importance of arriving at the truth in the quest for justice.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who attended not in his official
capacity or in the capacity of a retired judge, but as the father of
Ilona Lindenstrauss-Arieli who was appointed to the Northern District
Magistrates Court, was reluctant to comment on the Katsav verdict before
studying its contents.
"I want to read the judgment before I make a statement," he said, but
echoed Beinisch's comment that it was a sad day. "What she says always
reflects the feelings of the other judges," he added.
In addition to the above mentioned new judges, the full list of
appointees includes: Shoshana Almagor, Gilia Ravid, and Yona Atagi Tel
Aviv District Court; Varda Plaut, Central District Court; Azaria
Alkalai, Tzachi Uziel, and Tal Levi, Tel Aviv District Magistrates
Court; Binyamin Izraeli and Eilat Golan-Tavori (to family matters)
Central District Magistrates Court; Oshrit Rotkopf, Central District
Magistrates Court: Yehuda Shaked, (family matters) Tel Aviv District
Magistrates Court; Ron Gurvitz, (family matters) Northern District
Magistrates Court; Inam Sharkawi, Northern District Magistrates Court;
Rotem Ayash (family matters) Southern District Magistrates Court; Yigal
Gelem, Haifa District Labor Court; Aryeh Zarzewski, Shmuel Melamed and
Sarit Crispin-Avraham Tel Aviv District Traffic Court; and Eli Enoshi
Central District Traffic Court.
The busts of all eight former presidents of Israel are on display in the
grounds of Beit Hanassi. When asked whether Katsav's bust would now be
removed, a spokeswoman for Beit Hanassi replied that no decision would
be made until after Katsav's case runs its full process. He has yet to
be sentenced and in all probability will appeal afterward.
Israel's fifth President Yitzhak Navon together with Katsav were the
only two remaining members of the Presidents' Club of former Presidents
of the state following the death in May, 2009 of Israel's fourth
President Ephraim Katzir.
Israel's seventh President, Ezer Weizman, died in April, 2005. Prior to
his death, he, Katzir and Navon comprised the Presidents' Club. Attempts
to locate Navon at all his phone numbers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem were
unsuccessful, but it is unlikely in view of the circumstances, that
another meeting of the Presidents' Club will be held until Peres
completes his seven year term in 2014. In the interim, providing that
Peres retains his faculties and his physical strength, there could be a
possible change in the law that would enable him to serve longer.