Minister: New judges will restore right-wing trust in High Court
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Minister: New judges will restore right-wing trust in High Court

Shaked indicates she managed to sway panel to select conservative, non-activist candidates; Naor hails picks despite failing to get own choices on bench

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a meeting of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a meeting of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Thursday hailed the new appointments to the Supreme Court, saying the four fresh faces will restore right-wing trust in Israel’s highest legal authority.

“Yes, we can put it on the table and say openly: yes, it will strengthen the trust of the right in the Supreme Court,” Shaked told Army Radio.

The minister, who headed the judicial appointments committee, appeared to corroborate claims she was responsible for securing nominations for justices with a more conservative and non-activist legal worldview, putting a large dent in what is seen as a liberal-dominated bench.

“Let’s just say that in the Tzipi Livni era [Shaked’s predecessor as justice minister], I don’t recall that any conservative judges were selected. That’s how it works,” she said.

On Twitter, Livni counseled the new appointees to avoid being populist. “I hope the court will continue to be steered under the confident hands of the judges, who are committed to Israel’s laws — and won’t be cowed by populism,” the former justice minister wrote on Twitter.

Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor, who was on the panel but was unable to see any of her preferred judges chosen, hailed the picks Thursday.

“I am proud and happy the committee wisely promoted four justices who are skilled, professional and have extensive, rich experience in the court system, who will without a doubt constitute an important contribution in the tasks facing the justices in the Supreme Court,” Naor, who will retire in October, wrote in a letter Thursday.

An Israel Bar Association representative on the panel told Army Radio on Thursday the new appointees did not herald dramatic changes for the Supreme Court.

“None of the judges appointed will turn the Supreme Court on its head. There will be no revolution here,” said Khaled Zoabi.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seen with Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and members of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at a meeting of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked seen with Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and members of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at a meeting of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem on February 22, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

The Judicial Appointments Committee for the court announced that it had appointed David Mintz, Yael Willner, Yosef Elron and George Karra to the 15-member Supreme Court, out of a shortlist of 27 candidates.

Three of the four were on Shaked’s list of preferred candidates, while the three judges on the nine-member judicial appointments panel, who voted as a bloc, failed to advance any of their nominees.

Mintz, who currently serves as a Jerusalem district judge, was thought to have been Shaked’s top pick, hailing from the Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank and considered a strong advocate for conservative positions.

Justice David Mintz. (Ministry of Justice)
Justice David Mintz. (Ministry of Justice)

Yosef Elron, the president of the Haifa District Court since 2013 and a known non-activist judge, was backed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), who also sat on the appointments committee. Shaked was also reportedly in favor of the religious Zionist Haifa District Court Judge Yael Willner.

The head of the Haifa District Court Yosef Elron. November 10, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The head of the Haifa District Court Yosef Elron. November 10, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Karra, a Christian Arab judge at the Tel Aviv District Court who was among the panel of judges who convicted former president Moshe Katsav of rape and sentenced him to seven years in prison, was considered a compromise candidate who gained the backing of the Israel Bar Association.

The new appointees will replace outgoing Supreme Court justices Miriam Naor, Elyakim Rubinstein, Salim Joubran and Zvi Zilbertal.

Speaking immediately after the announcement on Wednesday evening, Shaked said it was “a historic day” that could dramatically change the makeup of the country’s highest legal authority.

“Finally, a humane and judicious selection that is needed as a mirror for the Israeli people. I wish them success,” she said in a statement.

Justice George Karra. (Ministry of Justice)
Justice George Karra. (Ministry of Justice)

In recent years, right-wing lawmakers have accused the top legal body of interventionist judicial activism as pioneered by Aharon Barak, president of the High Court from 1995 to 2006, after the courts torpedoed a series of Knesset laws it deemed unlawful.

Shaked, of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, has frequently spoken out in favor of reining in the High Court or changing the makeup of the justices to incorporate more conservative views.

The nine-member panel tasked with choosing the new justices consisted of Shaked; Kahlon; two lawmakers from the governing coalition, Nurit Koren (Likud) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu); two representatives of the Bar Association; and three Supreme Court judges, Naor (due to retire in October), Rubinstein (due to retire in June) and Joubran (due to retire in August).

Justice Yael Willner. (Ministry of Justice)
Justice Yael Willner. (Ministry of Justice)

Naor, despite failing to secure any of her preferences, welcomed the appointees. “I wish the best to all those who were chosen today to serve as judges in the Supreme Court. We will welcome all of them warmly,” she said in a statement.

Israel’s highest court has 15 members, though only some of the judges are assigned to each case. The chief justice post is traditionally appointed automatically, based on seniority.

For the Israeli right, the Supreme Court represents the old left-leaning political elite, a bench of like-minded figures that it is determined to replace.

The left and opposition politicians fear that shifting the court’s ideological makeup will threaten Israeli democracy, upturn the system of checks and balances and leave open key issues that the fractious Knesset is unable to resolve, such as those pertaining to civil liberties, religious freedom and the rights of Palestinians.

In November, Shaked and Naor locked horns over the makeup of the appointments committee, with the justice minister backing a bill that would have seen the bench stripped of its automatic veto power on the panel.

The bill was later shelved.

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