Courting controversy with attacks on the court
Hebrew media review

Courting controversy with attacks on the court

The country’s top judges find themselves in the middle of a donnybrook after 2 instances call into question whether the justice system is above criticism

The Supreme Court in Jerusalem before the start of a discussion on the controversial agreement reached between the government and large energy companies over natural gas production, February 3, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The Supreme Court in Jerusalem before the start of a discussion on the controversial agreement reached between the government and large energy companies over natural gas production, February 3, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The question of who judges the judges, or if they should even be judged, leaps seemingly from out of left field onto the front pages of Israeli papers Tuesday morning, as a political-judicial firestorm sparked during a legal conference and reactions to a documentary dominate the news landscape.

Two different and very unconnected incidents somehow swirled Monday into what looks like a concerted attack on the courts: 1. Comments made by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accusing the High Court of Justice of meddling in politics by essentially nixing a major gas extraction licensing deal — comments that were quickly interpreted as a major attack on the independence of the court, and 2. a ruckus over a documentary that calls a high-profile murder conviction into question, given new life by a Supreme Court judge kind of agreeing with it.

“Head to head,” reads the A1 headline on Yedioth Ahronoth, with a picture of Supreme Court President Miriam Naor leaning her head toward Shaked.

Yet the tabloid leads its coverage with the case that Shaked has nothing to do with, the documentary “Shadow of truth,” which apparently calls into question the conviction of Roman Zadorov in the slaying of Tair Rada and which spurred State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan to call it “a real threat to democracy.”

“A criminal case isn’t a reality show in which the public can text message if the accused is guilty or not,” the paper quotes him saying, thereby stirring the hornets’ nest.

Yedioth quotes Justice Yoram Danzinger, the one judge who dissented on the appeal and found Zadorov wasn’t proved guilty, raising his voice again, saying that an unanimous decision should be required in murder cases. Naor, on the other hand, is one of the few to come to Nitzan’s defense, and is quoted echoing his claim and attacking the quality of the reporting in the series.

“There’s a difference between an investigative report and making big headlines without any factual backing,” she says.

Getting into the middle of the fray, Tova Zemuki writes in a commentary that Nitzan’s comments could have been made by a chicken with its head cut off.

“Nitzan, considered the brightest mind in the prosecutor’s office, didn’t devote his speech to the war on organized crime, to enforcing the rule of law in the territories [the West Bank] or to harm to the public trust by those supposed to enforce it – but decided to launch an attack on a television series and its creators. Instead of broadcasting leadership, he broadcast panic.”

Shaked may not have waded into the debate over the documentary, but Haaretz quotes former Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir saying she should have.

“There have never before been so many attacks and such sharp ones,” he tells the paper. “Who will protect the court if not the justice minister?”

What Shaked did get into was the court’s decision to nix part of the controversial gas deal, inviting oodles of criticism. Israel Hayom leads off with Shaked’s criticism, and notes that the political response to her comments made the judicial system’s blowback look like child’s play.

“The responses of the judges were more steady and calm than some of the political responses, especially from the opposition,” the paper reports. “The most base was from MK Shelly Yachimovich, who called for Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Shaked from her post. ‘Shaked’s missive against the Supreme Court was violent and dangerous,’ she said.”

Shaked wasn’t the only one to attack the judges. Haaretz’s editorial also goes after the High Court for continuing to okay demolitions of homes of Palestinian attackers, specifically calling out Naor for relying on precedent.

“There is a flaw in Naor’s logic,” the editorial reads. “First, according to the law, the High Court of Justice is not bound by its own precedents. Second, the current High Court president should follow the advice of the very first Supreme Court president, Moshe Smoira, who said that between truth and stability, ‘truth is preferable.’”

The balance of power between judges and politicians gives way on the paper’s front page to a literal balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, who are seeing electricity cut in some of their cities over unpaid bills.

The paper reports that Bethlehem city officials claimed Monday after a four-four blackout in the city that the debts are not owed by them but rather by the PA and refugee camps, though it’s the residents who are suffering. And while Israel claims shifting the cuts between cities is intended to make sure no area suffers too much, the result is the opposite, Hisham al-Omari, CEO of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company, is cited as saying.

“According to Omari, the decision to shift interruptions and electricity cuts from place to place doesn’t constitute an easing of the burden, but rather cruelty and collective punishment toward Palestinian residents,” the paper reports.

It’ll be hard to refrigerate meat without power, which normally wouldn’t concern Israelis, but may after a massive police probe turned up a ring of smugglers bringing in counterfeit meat, sometimes not even beef as it claimed to be, from the PA into some of Tel Aviv’s finest restaurants.

Surprisingly, though, none of these eateries seems willing to admit that any such meat actually made it onto a customer’s plate.

“I buy about six tons of meat a week,” Haim Cohen, owner of Tel Aviv eatery Dixie, tells Israel Hayom. “In January, there was a distributor who brought us meat, showed us papers from the veterinary unit – and on the face of it everything seemed fine. We made a small order, the kitchen staff checked the product and saw it was not high enough quality. We told them we wouldn’t work with them because of the quality. The meat wasn’t worked on and didn’t get to the tables of any eaters.”

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