In a surprise announcement, Supreme Court Justice Zvi Zilbertal on Thursday said he intends to step down from the bench next year, five years before reaching the court’s mandatory retirement age.
Zilbertal, 64, will retire on April 17, 2017, a statement from the court said.
The statement gave no reason for the decision, though sources close to the court say Zilbertal feels he has had enough of the exhausting duties of a justice.
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.
Zilbertal has been a judge for 27 years, winning his first judicial appointment to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in 1990, followed by promotion to the Jerusalem District Court in 2000 and the Supreme Court in 2012.
Zilbertal’s announcement makes him the fourth justice who will be retiring in 2017, as Chief Justice Miriam Naor and justices Salim Joubran and Elyakim Rubinstein all reach retirement age.
The timing of the retirements, which with the exception of Zilbertal marks their 70th birthday, leaves the nine-member Judicial Appointments Committee with the unusual task of selecting nearly one-third of Israel’s highest court in the span of a few months.
The committee is made up of four politicians — two MKs and two cabinet ministers — alongside two representatives of the Israel Bar Association and three Supreme Court justices.
The committee is likely to struggle with the appointments. The four politicians all hail from the right, with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (a former Likud minister who now heads the Kulanu party) making up the cabinet contingent, MK Nurit Koren of Likud representing the coalition and MK Robert Ilatov of Yisrael Beytenu the opposition. The three justices on the committee are also the three set to retire: Naor, Joubran and Rubinstein.
The lawmakers have long sought to push back against what they consider the activism of the High Court since the 1990s. The three justices, while diverse in their own views — Joubran is considered a relative liberal, Rubinstein a relative conservative — all seek to shore up the court’s independence.
By law, seven votes are required to approve a new justice, meaning that both sides, the right-wing politicians as well as the Supreme Court justices, wield a veto on the appointments.