Justice minister scolds Supreme Court chief over pro-settlement ceremony boycott

Ayelet Shaked tells Miriam Naor that she has politicized the event; several ambassadors to attend, including envoys from Myanmar and Rwanda

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, September 3, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, September 3, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on Wednesday slammed the head of the Supreme Court for her decision to prevent a court representative from attending an event to mark 50 years since the beginning of the West Bank settlement enterprise, saying that it politicizes an official state ceremony.

Earlier in the day Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor reiterated the court’s opposition to participating in the ceremony, saying the judiciary should not be involved in “controversial” political events.

“I was sorry to hear about your decision to prevent a representative of the Supreme Court from participating in the state ceremony to make 50 years since the liberation of Judea, Samaria, Binyamin, the Golan [Heights] and the Jordan Valley,” Shaked wrote to Naor using the biblical names for the areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.

“As you know, the creation of the ceremony was laid out in government decision number 2605 of September 4, 2017, and as such, it is a state event with the participation of top-level representatives, and among them a representative of the Supreme Court.

“In effect, your announcement undoes the state aspect of an official ceremony and creates the false impression of an event that has a political nature. Although you wanted to avoid political controversy, behold, the goal has been missed.”

Rather, Shaked cautioned, Naor’s decision was likely to fuel claims that the court acts as a political entity.

President of the Supreme Court Judge Miriam Naor, August 31, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, even though most international envoys to Israel stayed away from the event, as they consider the settlements to be illegal, several ambassador were planning to come.

The Yesha Council, the umbrella organization representing Israeli settlements, said that ambassadors from Kenya, Myanmar, Rwanda, Angola and Nepal will all attend the ceremony.

Responding earlier to a petition from the pro-settlement Regavim group on her decision Tuesday to cancel Justice Neal Hendel’s attendance at the ceremony, Naor said it would be inappropriate for the court to attend a political event “devoted to one side.”

Naor said that to send a Supreme Court justice to the event would violate the court’s ethic rules.

“A judge shall not be involved in any political or party activity… A judge shall not take part in an event held by a party or other political body or in another framework with a political or party identity,” she said, quoting clauses from the court’s ethics rules.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, in his response in the name of the state, contended that because it was an official state ceremony, it shouldn’t be considered political.

Naor’s decision was met with condemnation from right-wing lawmakers and leaders of the West Bank communities, who have long accused the justices of holding left-wing political views.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) have both criticized Naor for her stance. Regev said the court chief had “crossed a red line” while Liberman called into question the court’s ability to be an unbiased arbiter in cases concerning the West Bank.

The site of the upcoming jubilee ceremony celebrating 50 years of settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights, on September 26, 2017, in the Etzion settlement bloc. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Wednesday’s ceremony at an industrial park in the Etzion Bloc, funded by the Culture and Education ministries to the tune of NIS 10 million ($2.8 million) and featuring a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has turned into a political lightning rod in recent days.

Much of the international community views West Bank settlements as illegal and has frequently tried to pressure Israel to halt construction beyond the Green Line. The Palestinians say it is one of the major obstacles to reaching a peace deal. Most settlements are legal according to Israeli law — though Israel has never extended its sovereignty over the West Bank — and many see the area as Israel’s by historical and biblical right.

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