Asher Grunis was sworn in as Supreme Court president on Tuesday afternoon, replacing Dorit Beinisch after almost seven years.
The ceremony took place at the President’s Residence, with all of the country’s leadership, including President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, present.
Grunis said he was honored to be entering such a job, saying there is a special and heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the Supreme Court’s judges.
A true democracy needs strong courts and judges, Grunis said, adding there are many challenges that hundreds of Israeli judges need to deal with on a daily basis. Problems range from large workloads to inadequate salaries and lousy physical conditions.
Judges also find themselves under personal attack, which Israel should not tolerate, the new president said, before thanking his family and friends for their support and love.
Speaking at the ceremony, Netanyahu said that a democratic country requires various elements, including a free press and individual rights, and “the judicial system is above all of these.” The difference between countries with human rights on paper and those who practice and uphold those human rights is a strong judicial system, he added.
Referring to recent legislation aimed at limiting the court’s power, Netanyahu said he would continue to fight such moves. Even those who have legitimate criticism of the system have to play by the rules and abide by the law, he said.
For over 60 years the judiciary has had to balance between the state’s security needs and its right to defend itself, on the one hand, and individual civil rights, including those of minorities, on the other, Netanyahu said. Extreme measures, such at the United States incarcerating people of Japanese origin in camps during World War II, and the equally extreme disregarding of national security in the name of human rights, are both damaging to society, Netanyahu said.
“I enjoyed getting to know you,” Netanyahu told Beinisch, thanking her for her courage and personality. “You were the first woman and the first Israeli-born judge to reach this post,” he said.
Peres, in his address, praised the Israeli judicial system, saying that ever since Moses, the concepts of law and justice have guided the people of Israel. He thanked Beinisch for her service to the country, both in her verdicts and her public efforts to maintain the court’s independence.
The president also turned to Grunis, wishing him a successful term as the 10th president of the Supreme Court. “You bring your outlook and opinions,” Peres told Grunis, saying he was sure that the new president would continue to safeguard the core democratic values of Israel.
Outgoing president Beinisch stressed the need for an independent and strong judicial system. Our system is a good one, she said, and is recognized and appreciated as such worldwide. Israel’s judicial system is its shield, protecting it as a Jewish and democratic country, Beinisch said.
She thanked all those with whom she interacted during the decades of her public service, saying she met many good people of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds. “We must strengthen our common ground” in order to guarantee a bright future for generations, she ended.
Judiciary bids farewell to Beinisch
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 various 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.