Israel swears in new chief justice Miriam Naor
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Israel swears in new chief justice Miriam Naor

Despite credentials as a judicial conservative, Naor endorsed by famously activist predecessor Aharon Barak

Incoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor with President Reuven Rivlin (R) during her swearing-in ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, January 15, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Incoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor with President Reuven Rivlin (R) during her swearing-in ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, January 15, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s new chief justice, 67-year-old Miriam Naor, was sworn into office Thursday by President Reuven Rivlin at a formal ceremony in the President’s Residence.

Naor will serve until September 2017, when she reaches the mandatory judicial retirement age of 70.

Born in Jerusalem in 1947, Naor graduated from the Hebrew University’s law school in 1971 and clerked for Supreme Court justice (later chief justice) Moshe Landau. She worked on constitutional issues in the State Attorney’s Office under Mishael Cheshin, who would later be appointed deputy chief justice.

In 1980 she won her first judicial appointment to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. Later in the 1990s, she served as one of the judges who eventually convicted Shas chairman Aryeh Deri on bribery charges. She became a permanent justice on the Supreme Court in 2003.

Naor hails from a family rooted in the revisionist Zionist tradition. Her husband, Aryeh Naor, served as prime minister Menachem Begin’s cabinet secretary from 1977 to 1982. Her mother-in-law, Esther Raziel-Naor, was a long-serving MK for Herut (the precursor to Likud) — from 1949 to 1973. Her son Naftali — whose godfather was Menachem Begin — ran unsuccessfully in last month’s Likud primaries.

Naor is thought to be a judicial conservative who won’t follow too closely in the footsteps of her most famous predecessor, the brilliant and unabashedly activist Aharon Barak. That’s the conventional wisdom, at any rate, but as right-wing lawmakers learned about outgoing chief justice Asher Grunis, justices on the High Court rarely conform to the categories foisted on them by politicians and the media.

Barak himself praised Naor on Thursday, saying she had passed through the crucible of judicial experience and would be an excellent chief justice.

Grunis stepped down Thursday after three years as chief justice.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor seen with outgoing Deputy Supreme Court President Asher Grunis at a ceremony in Jerusalem, January 15, 2015. (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor seen with outgoing Deputy Supreme Court President Asher Grunis at a ceremony in Jerusalem, January 15, 2015. (photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Flash90)

Grunis, who was first appointed a judge in 1988 and also entered the Supreme Court in 2003, turns 70 on Saturday.

In his final ruling, Grunis overturned a court decision to grant convicted Lebanese terrorist Mustafa Dirani damages for rape and abuse while in Israeli prison. Four justices, including Grunis and Naor, voted to overturn the previous decision allowing the compensation; three voted against. Grunis ruled that the court could not look into the damages claims of an enemy during wartime.

Though considered a judicial conservative like Naor, Grunis used his speech at the President’s Residence ceremony on Thursday to defend the court’s status in the Israeli system of government against right-wing criticisms of overreach and calls by some lawmakers to weaken the court’s power to strike down Knesset legislation.

“In recent years a public debate calling for the reduction of the Supreme Court’s powers has been heard,” Grunis said at the ceremony.

“As far as I’m concerned there is no justifiable reason to limit its authority. It’s understood that the Knesset as the [constitutional] authority is entitled to outline the character of Israel’s constitutional law,” he said. “But it must do so with responsibility, with great caution, and with a deep understanding of the foundations of democratic rule.”

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