Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran was appointed vice president of the court on Monday by the Judicial Appointments Committee.
Joubran, the first Arab to be appointed to the 15-member court as a full-time judge, will serve in the position until his retirement in August, when he will turn 70.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked praised the appointment, saying “Judge Joubran is a first-rate, trailblazing judge. His appointment as vice president of the Supreme Court brings great honor to the State of Israel.”
Joubran turned down the salary increase that comes with the new position.
A Christian-Arab, born in the northern city of Acre, Joubran was involved in a number of important verdicts. He was one of three judges who rejected the appeal of former president Moshe Katsav, sending him to prison for seven years for rape and sexual abuse.
Joubran has also served since 2013 as chairman of the Central Elections Committee, the first Arab to do so.
From 1970 until 1982 he practiced private law, leaving to accept an appointment to Haifa’s magistrate’s court. In 1993 he was appointed to the Haifa District Court before being elevated to the Supreme Court in 2003, first as an acting justice and then as a permanent judge.
Two years ago, Joubran drew criticism from some on the right for remaining silent during the singing of Israel’s national anthem at the conclusion of a Supreme Court swearing-in ceremony, leading to calls for his resignation.
Joubran was defended at the time by the justice he now replaces as vice president of the court, Elyakim Rubinstein. Rubinstein wrote a letter championing his colleague as a loyal Israeli citizen, arguing that Israeli Arabs should not be required to sing lyrics they cannot identify with, and dismissing the brouhaha over the incident as undeserved criticism.
Rubinstein will retire on Tuesday, his 70th birthday.
Rubinstein served on the court since 2004 and became vice president in 2015. He gained a reputation as a liberal reformer and an advocate for religious freedom, pitting him against the Orthodox rabbinic establishment.
In total, four judges on the 15-member Supreme Court have retired or will retire in 2017. In addition to Rubinstein and Joubran, Zvi Zilbertal stepped down in April, five years before reaching the mandatory retirement age, and court president Miriam Naor is set to retire when she turns 70 in September. They will be replaced by David Mintz, Yael Willner, Yosef Elron and George Kara.
Israel’s top court is not only the country’s highest appeals court, it also sits as the High Court of Justice, to which anyone affected by Israeli state agencies, including Palestinians and foreign nationals, can appeal in real time against any action by the Israeli state. While appeals from lower courts may number in the dozens each year, as in other democracies, High Court petitions run into the thousands.