High Court accuses Israel's politicians of political attacks on courts

President Herzog said it's imperative to protect the independence of Israel's legal system and the rule of law.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut speaks at the annual Israel Bar Association conference. (photo credit: COURTESY OF THE ISRAEL BAR ASSOCIATION)
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut speaks at the annual Israel Bar Association conference.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE ISRAEL BAR ASSOCIATION)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut all used different metaphors on Monday at a conference in Tel Aviv to counter what they portrayed as attempts by elements of the political class, including former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to tear down the legal system.

Lapid and Sa’ar both took aim at Netanyahu, saying he and his allies want to “destroy” the judicial establishment.

Sa’ar said Netanyahu and his allies want to alter Israel’s system of government, so it will become less democratic and have fewer checks on executive power.

The prime minister said the legal establishment could always be reformed, but that this should be done with the goal of improving it, not ripping it to pieces.

 Supreme Court Chief of Justice Ester Hayut with Supreme Court judge George Karra and Supreme court justices at a ceremony held for outgoign Supreme Court judge George Karra, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Supreme Court Chief of Justice Ester Hayut with Supreme Court judge George Karra and Supreme court justices at a ceremony held for outgoign Supreme Court judge George Karra, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Hayut did not mention Netanyahu or any other specific politicians. However, she did warn, “Sadly, in recent years, attacks on the judiciary have increased during election season and are being used like a destructive ax in order to make electoral political gains.” She said this was “dangerous to the judicial establishment and harms the public’s faith” in the system.

Hayut also expressed her general disappointment and concern that the country is stuck in its fifth round of elections in a period of less than three years.

The chief justice said this was part of a worldwide “climate change” to the character of democracies, in which aggressive attacks on national institutions are more accepted than they might have been in the past.

“We are criticized from both the Left and the Right, and there is no greater proof that we are apolitical and rule according to the law,” she said.

“We are criticized from both the Left and the Right, and there is no greater proof that we are apolitical and rule according to the law.”

High Court of Justice President Esther Hayut

Hayut also discussed the courts’ efforts to become more transparent and efficient in addressing the public’s needs by improving electronic access to justice and information. To this end, she said, the court has started to air a larger number of hearings live.

President Isaac Herzog said it is crucial “to guard the independence of the legal system and the rule of law,” because without the legal establishment, “there would be no just proceedings.”

Herzog commented, “Famous cases also have an impact, but it is important to remember there are 800 judges and thousands of lawyers and public sector legal advisers” who keep the nation running.