The departure of Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch last week couldn’t have
been more symbolic. But for all the wrong reasons. Some commentators in
the Hebrew press noted that her last case was typical of her involvement in
social justice issues. In true Beinisch style, she ruled against
state-determined criteria for receiving social benefits. But above all, it
seemed sadly typical that her last ruling after five and a half years as head of
the Supreme Court should be in a case that has been going through the legal
system for seven years. Talk about slowly grinding wheels of
Beinisch, on a panel of seven judges, ruled that owning or
having use of a car cannot be considered a reason to make a person ineligible
for income support. Car ownership in this day and age cannot be considered a
measure of means and personal wealth. Ironically, the day the ruling was handed
down, citing lofty principles of human dignity, the headlines were screaming
about the planned price hike in the price of gasoline, which looked likely to
hit an all-time high of approximately NIS 8 a liter. Suddenly car ownership
looked beyond the means of even most middle-class wage earners.
of course, also typical that nobody knew whether the price really would go up at
midnight on February 29 or whether a last-minute deal would be
reached. The country is turning last-minute deals into a national sport.
One day the Pri Hagalil food factory is closed, putting hundreds out of work in
an area which suffers from chronic unemployment, and three days later it’s open
again – for now. The ports went on strike, for a few hours, before an agreement
was reached. Even the Ammunition Hill war memorial, as I noted last week, was
closed for a few hours before the funding for its continued operation was found,
until next time.
Israelis are good in crisis situations. They are also
prone to creating crises. Beinisch’s last day in court managed to create its own
Shimon Peres hosted a reception at the President’s
Residence to bid farewell to Beinisch as Supreme Court head and welcome her
successor, Asher Dan Grunis. The entertainment was purely instrumental,
presumably to avoid more news items about women singing in public and the
reaction of the ultra-Orthodox.
The unexpected sideshow was not about who
sang, but who didn’t. Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran drew fire from
right-wing MKs for standing quietly and not singing the national anthem. This of
course is also typical. Instead of being proud that, despite what the
world thinks, Israel is not an apartheid state, and that an Israeli Arab can
work his way through the system to the position of Supreme Court judge, MKs
including David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) and
Moshe Feiglin (Likud) complained that Joubran, a Christian of Lebanese Maronite
descent, can’t quite bring himself to belt out the words to Hatikva: “As long as
deep within the heart/A Jewish soul stirs/And to the ends of the East,
forward/An eye looks out, towards Zion/Our hope is not lost/The hope of two
thousand years/To be a free people in our land/The land of Zion and
Sitting as a proudly free Jewish woman in Jerusalem, I bet
that those same MKs would fight any attempt to change the words to the national
anthem to make it more inclusive.
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In one fell swoop, the hawks in effect
equated Joubran with, say, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose
comments on the status of Jerusalem also made headlines last week. Speaking at
the International Conference for the Defense of Jerusalem in Qatar’s capital
Doha, Abbas questioned the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and accused Israel of
using “ugly means” to erase the Arab-Islamic and Christian links.
and Ben-Ari don’t so much pick their battles as provoke their own wars. They are
not strengthening the Jewish nature of the state, they are going against
Ben-Ari intends furthering what has been
dubbed the “Joubran bill,”
according to which only a judge who served in the IDF or did civil
service would be eligible to serve as a Supreme Court justice.
chairs the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said he
plans to ask
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to force Joubran to resign. Despite his
own position, Rotem does not seem to realize that contempt for Joubran
contempt not only for the court in which he sits, but also for the
BEINISCH’S RETIREMENT has been branded
as the end of an era –
not so much the Beinisch era, as that of her predecessor Aharon Barak.
philosophy, which continued to be felt under Beinisch, could be summed
up in two
words “judicial activism,” or, in Hebrew, “hakol shafit” – everything
tried in court. Not surprisingly, this approach led many to feel that
were becoming politicized and overly interventionist.
New Supreme Court
President Grunis has a different view. For example, just a week ago he
from the High Court of Justice’s majority decision against extending the
Law, which legislated exemptions from military service. He maintains
court had no business interfering with the issue that should be left up
The Barak/Beinisch philosophy that
almost anyone can
petition the High Court on almost anything resulted in some 10,000
year. No wonder it takes seven years for cases to be determined. This is
Grunis is the type of judge who likes
to preserve the right to
remain silent. He can best be judged, therefore, by his rulings – and
wording of his decisions. Grunis’s rulings are known to be brief and to
point. He is not seen as someone out to promote an agenda. But he is an
Supreme Court judge, and as such he stands for the defense of the
democratic nature no less than his predecessors. Despite his reluctance
overturn legislation, for example, he voted, like Beinisch, against the
privatization of prisons, ruling it would be a serious violation of the
rights of human dignity and freedom. In another well-known ruling,
however, he maintained the Citizenship Law, which prevents Palestinians
marry Israeli Arabs from automatically receiving Israeli citizenship or
residency. “Human rights should not be a recipe for national suicide,”
His name in recent reports has usually
been followed by the word
“restraint” just as Barak’s was automatically linked to “activism.” That
not, of course, mean he won’t have an impact.
Perhaps the most important
task ahead of him is to restore public confidence in the legal system.
and the lack of a clear political identity go a long way towards
“There are judges in Jerusalem,” said prime
minister Menachem Begin
in a statement of faith in the judicial process.
It is perhaps fitting
that the week in which the country marked the 20th anniversary of
Grunis took over as head of the Supreme Court.
Grunis’s message, in
recognizing that not everything can be ruled upon judicially, is that
country’s lawmakers have to take responsibility and deal with
issues. The judges in Jerusalem sit very close to the Knesset and the
legislators, too, need to show courage and principles.The writer is
The International Jerusalem Post.
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