Israeli Right wins historic fight over Supreme Court justices

Shaked biggest winner in selection of four new Supreme Court justices. Naor cuts deal rather than risk Knesset nuclear option.

The Supreme Court, Jerusalem (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Supreme Court, Jerusalem
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was the biggest winner Wednesday night in the battle over the Supreme Court’s future, with three of four justices appointed by the Judicial Selection Committee either reflecting a more conservative approach to the law or being on her list of acceptable non-activist judges.
Shaked had pushed for Jerusalem District Court Judge David Mintz, a conservative Gush Etzion resident, to be named to the Supreme Court. Haifa District Court President Yosef Elron was primarily the Israel Bar Association’s and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s candidate, but was viewed as acceptable by Shaked.
In contrast, the three justices on the Judicial Selection Committee did not get any of their preferred candidates, sufficing with Haifa District Court Judge Yael Vilner, who is Orthodox and was also viewed positively by Shaked as a compromise candidate to fill a seat expected to go to a woman.
The fourth appointee, Tel Aviv District Court Judge George Kara, was as close as the justices’ bloc got to having its own candidate, as he was selected over Tel Aviv District Court Judge Khaled Kabuv, preferred by the Bar Association. But even that appointment was not seen as a real win for the bloc.
Shaked declaring it “a historic day... the flagship boat of our judicial system changed its direction tonight.”
The right-wing Legal Forum for the Land of Israel also praised the appointments saying, “This is a giant victory of Minister Shaked and the supporters of the conservative trend on the committee.”
Shaked and the forum went on to describe the victory in detail in their statements.
By contrast, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor released a concise, restrained and generic statement welcoming the new appointees to the Supreme Court.
Naor and the justices’ bloc appear to have decided to accept a deal they did not prefer rather than risk Shaked following through on her threat of passing legislation that would let the Judicial Selection Committee appoint justices without their votes.
Currently, seven of the nine committee members must support appointees, effectively giving the three justices a veto.
The selection of all four new justices at once put in question the path the court will take on fateful issues – such as the settlements, migrants, natural gas and human rights – for decades to come.
The three blocs on the committee are: the justices’ bloc of Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Deputy President Elyakim Rubinstein and Salim Joubran; the political bloc of Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kilanu), MK Nurit Koren (Likud) and MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu); and the Israel Bar Association bloc of Ilana Sakar and Khaled Zoabi.
In November, just days after Naor slammed Shaked‘s treatment of the court, the justice minister shifted attention by publishing a list of 28 candidates for the four Supreme Court slots opening up in 2017.
Naor, Rubinstein, Joubran and Justice Zvi Zilbertal will all be stepping down at different points in the coming year, after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Earlier in November, in an unprecedented sign of open war, Naor severed relations with Shaked regarding negotiations about appointments of justices, over the justice minister’s “gun on the table” threats she made through the media about pushing a bill through the Knesset that would allow her and the political echelon to appoint judges against the Supreme Court’s wishes.
For several days, stories have emerged without Shaked’s explicit approval, but with implied confirmations by sources close to her, that she would back a bill by Ilatov allowing the appointment of four justices to the Supreme Court with a mere majority of the committee – even if all of the justices on the committee oppose the candidates.
Several years ago, the Knesset passed a law stating that seven of the nine members of the committee must support a candidate to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Though there are more politicians on the committee than justices, the presence of three justices on the committee – at present Naor, Rubinstein and Joubran – has meant that, effectively, the Supreme Court’s consent is needed to get an appointment through.
Right-wing ministers and MKs praised Shaked and expressed hope that the new judges would help change the character of the state.
“I hope the Supreme Court will better reflect Israeli society and the public’s trust in the legal system will strengthen,” said Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi).
But Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On accused Shaked of preferring “narrow political interests” over the need to fix the male dominance on the court.
“Shaked will be responsible for this shameful situation for years to come,” Gal- On said.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.