Justice Asher Grunis became Israel’s 10th Supreme Court President Tuesday afternoon.
President Shimon Peres began the swearing-in ceremony by praising outgoing Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch, saying the period she served in was one of the toughest in the history of the state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also thanked Beinisch and called the judicial system an integral part of Israel’s democracy.
Beinisch, speaking at the ceremony, called on the country to continue to guard the court from “harsh attacks” on it by legislators.
Earlier in the day, Beinisch, 70, ended her career of more than 40 years in public service. The heads of the justice system bade her farewell in a ceremony at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.
Beinisch’s last act as president was to read out a ruling overturning two articles of the Income Support Law that prevented people who own a car from receiving welfare payments.
“This ceremony is not easy for me. I am bidding farewell to the Supreme Court, which has been my home for the past 15 years,” said a tearful Beinisch. “As a judge in the Supreme Court I believed that the most important thing was to maintain the independence of the court, its freedom and ability to implement democratic values,” she added.
An independent judiciary is critical to democracy, she said — to the underpinning not only of legal norms but of democratic norms.
Beinisch, the first woman to hold the Supreme Court presidency, was appointed to her position in 2006, having served as a member of the Supreme Court since 1995. Prior to that she worked in various positions in the State Attorney’s Office for almost 30 years.
During her tenure on the court, Beinisch was known for rulings that focused on human rights issues, especially cases involving the IDF, police and government bodies. Among her notable decisions was a 2007 ruling that the security barrier must be re-routed in the area around the Palestinian village of Bil’in. In the same year, after schools in southern Israel adopted a plan in which some classrooms would be reinforced against Kassam rockets and others not, she wrote a decision requiring that all classrooms in the area be reinforced equally.
At the ceremony for Beinisch’s retirement, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said: “Judges in Israel are not separate from the nation, they are part of it. This applies even more so to President Beinisch. [Her] decisions are not made in a vacuum or from an ivory tower; they are rooted in the heart of Israeli society and [stem] from a deep affinity with it. Her actions came from a deep love of [her] country.”
Grunis said he was sure that the state would take advantage of Beinisch’s abilities in the future in different positions in the public service.
Doron Barzilay, head of the Israeli Bar Association, said in his address that under the guidance of Beinisch, “the Supreme Court handled the most sensitive issues central to Israeli society… while balancing the rights of all involved.” He added that she represented a definitive answer to those who want to exclude women from the public sphere and that the Supreme Court is “an island of equality, where judges and justices are not measured because of gender, but by their commitment to law and justice.”
Despite her retirement, the court is expected to release more of Beinischs’s rulings on civil rights issues over the next three months.