'Democracy has not been weakened, it is getting stronger'

Justice minister exults: High Court no longer a branch of left-wing Meretz party

Shaked touts success in appointing more conservative judges; former top justice says her recent comments against court’s right to debate nation-state law delegitimize judiciary

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on September 5, 2018. (Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on September 5, 2018. (Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said her efforts to introduce more conservative figures to the Supreme Court have made it more representative of the Israeli public as a whole rather than “a branch of Meretz” — the dovish left-wing political party.

“In the past there were sections [of the population] who felt that the High Court doesn’t represent them,” Shaked told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in an interview published Thursday. “Today it represents everyone. It is more diversified, more conservative. The only thing that is missing is an ultra-Orthodox Supreme Court judge.”

Since taking up her ministerial position in 2015 Shaked has appointed or advanced 300 judges at the various levels of the judicial hierarchy — a third of the country’s total, Yedioth reported.

Shaked, who is the most senior non-religious member of the Jewish Home party, said that her tendency is to bring the judicial branch to a more conservative line.

“In choosing the judges I manage to do that,” she said. “Before the elections we called to change the policy of the courts — I am implementing this demand by right of my high political ability.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, October 30, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Despite her party’s religious bent, Shaked said that in reviewing the judges she did not look into their religious background, but rather based her decisions on their court rulings as well as conferring with those who knew the candidates.

“The most important thing is the identity of the judges,” she said. “I advanced people whose world outlook is more conservative… Most the country’s citizens can see that for the first time there is an effective justice minister who implements the right-wing policies.”

The minister asserted that as a result of her policies, Israel was now more democratic. “Democracy in my term has not been weakened, it is only getting stronger,” she added.

Her comments came as a former senior judge on the Supreme Court accused Shaked of delegitimizing the judiciary, after she warned the court not to even consider petitions against recent controversial legislation that defined Israel as the Jewish nation-state.

Former Vice President of the Supreme Court Elyakim Rubinstein said that he took a “severe view” of Shaked’s comments that a court review of the petitions against the law would serve as an “earthquake” to the legal system.

“Personally, I like her and I have a good relationship with her,” Rubinstein told Israel Radio. “But she is seriously wrong and I am very sorry about that. She is causing delegitimization of the judicial system.”

At least three petitions have been lodged with the Supreme Court’s High Court of Justice since the legislation was passed on July 19, with appellants demanding that justices overturn the law over its alleged discrimination of Israeli minorities.

The contentious law enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” for the first time, and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

On Tuesday Shaked addressed the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv and said that there would be an “earthquake” in Israel if the High Court even deliberated the petitions, regardless of its final ruling, because the legislation was now a Basic Law — semi-constitutional legislation which underpins Israel’s legal system and is more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

“The judges have begun, step by step, to detach themselves from the existing law and have begun to see themselves as the architects of the desired law,” Shaked said. “The court has moved from being the interpreter of the law to being its policy officer.”

Former Vice President of the Supreme Court of Israel Elyakim Rubinstein attends a ceremony in Jerusalem on October 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Wednesday Former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch also censured Shaked, telling Israel Radio that “there is a misunderstanding of what democracy is — these are demagogic expressions that belong to other regimes.”

In August Shaked made similar statements, saying that “the Knesset is the constituent assembly, which defines and determines the Basic Laws” and that the purpose of the High Court was only to interpret those laws.

Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence defined the state as a Jewish and democratic one. The Netanyahu government says the new law merely enshrines the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are anchored in existing legislation.

But critics, both at home and abroad, say the law undermines the nation’s commitment to equality for all its citizens. It has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze community, whose members say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens.

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday decried the law as “bad for the State of Israel and bad for the Jews” and described the legislation as part of a global pivot toward the silencing of dissent.

Former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

For months Shaked, along with her party’s head, Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, have been attempting to advance legislation broadly limiting the High Court’s circumvention power, but have made little headway despite having Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support.

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