Transparency now

This sex-for-judgeship story tells us that Shaked’s revolution in the judiciary has not gone far enough.

Efi Nave in court (photo credit: REUVEN CASTRO)
Efi Nave in court
(photo credit: REUVEN CASTRO)
After news that a judge allegedly provided sexual favors to Bar Association president Efi Nave in exchange for her appointment, several politicians said in their responses that the Judicial Selection Committee needed to be the “Holy of Holies.”
While they were clearly calling for the committee to have integrity and avoid outside considerations, the use of that metaphor is very revealing.
The Holy of Holies was, as its name implies, the most sacred part of the Temple in Jerusalem. It was closed off to the public. The only person who could enter was the high priest, who could only do so once a year.
The judicial branch of Israel’s government is often treated as though it is above all others, as though Israel is still a kritocracy like in the biblical Book of Judges, rather than a democracy, with three branches of government and in which the executive and legislature are equal to the judiciary.
Additionally, this so-called Holy of Holies in the judicial branch is a closed circle that only allows nine people inside – the justice minister, another minister, two MKs, three judges and two representatives of the Bar Association.
The Judicial Selection Committee does not release protocols. We do not know what considerations are behind the appointment of our judges. Some politicians on the committee have given a glimpse into their thinking via interviews, but rarely about specific candidates.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and others on the Right have long criticized the judiciary for being a self-selecting guild: judges led the way, indicating judges they want, and the rest of the members authorized whatever was put before them. Shaked made great strides in changing that situation, bringing Nave onto her side so that more varied – and more conservative – views characterized the 334 judges appointed during her tenure.
It’s unfortunate, and perhaps tragic, that alleged immoral and abusive behavior has corrupted this important process of disrupting groupthink in the judiciary. It is better for democracy and justice when a range of views are represented. And, hopefully, this scandal will not reverse progress made over the last four years.
This sex-for-judgeship story tells us that Shaked’s revolution in the judiciary has not gone far enough. Judges may not be self-selecting anymore, but the total lack of transparency in the process makes it too easy for inappropriate interests to taint it.
We’re talking about justice here, so we must mention that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. But even if the process proves to not have been tainted in this case, having a hermetically sealed committee making decisions means rumors and accusations can spread without any indications to the contrary, and those may seem all-too-credible to the public.
The easiest step that can be taken is to make the Judicial Selection Committee’s protocols transparent so everyone can see what its members discuss and consider when appointing new judges.
Another important step is to get the Knesset involved. This will strengthen trust in the judiciary and boost the Knesset’s role in our democracy, bringing us closer to the ideal of co-equal branches. We don’t necessarily have to move to an American system by which the Knesset would vote on the candidates. It could be just an additional step for Supreme Court justices. A hearing, even without a vote, before one of the Knesset’s open committees, would shed more light on the candidates in a way that the public can see if it wishes to do so.
Whatever method is chosen, the system needs to be reformed. It has too many lacunae that allow for it to be corrupted.
Judges are not holier than the rest of us. Between this sex scandal and last year’s “texting judge” saga, the public has seen all too well that judges are fallible humans, with the same foibles – or worse – as the rest of us.
Shaked took care of the self-selection problem in judicial appointments. Now, she or her replacement after elections would do well to take care of knocking the “holiest of holies” down another peg and open it up more to the public.