Opposition chief slams justice minister for ‘terrorizing’ High Court
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Opposition chief slams justice minister for ‘terrorizing’ High Court

Tzipi Livni accuses Ayelet Shaked of harming democracy after she warned of an ‘earthquake’ if top court overrules nation-state law

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni during a faction meeting in the Knesset on July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni during a faction meeting in the Knesset on July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Tuesday slammed Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked for “terrorizing” Israel’s top court and “harming the entire democratic system.”

Livni, a former justice minister herself, criticized Shaked for warning Sunday of an “earthquake” if the High Court of Justice were to overturn the controversial nation-state law, which is accused by some of discriminating against Israel’s non-Jewish minorities.

“A justice minister who thinks democracy means majority rule, that the majority can do whatever it wants, and that if the High Court intervenes there will be a war between the different authorities, harms the entire democratic system,” Livni told Army Radio.

“If tomorrow this government passes a law saying I don’t have the right to vote, I expect Israel’s Supreme Court to defend that right,” she added. “Unlike the justice minister, I am not waging battles against the court.”

Addressing Shaked, Livni concluded: “You won’t terrorize the court.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the Supreme Court hall in Jerusalem on August 2, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Livni recently became opposition leader after MK Isaac Herzog quit the post and the Knesset to become the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

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

On Sunday, Shaked told Army Radio that she does not believe the High Court has the power to strike down the nation-state law on constitutional grounds, because it was passed as a Basic Law, the constitutional underpinning of the Israeli justice system.

“Such a move would cause an earthquake between different authorities,” Shaked told the radio station when asked about possible judicial intervention over the law.

Four petitions have been lodged with the High Court since the law was passed on July 19, demanding that justices overturn the law due to its alleged discrimination.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (L) speaks with former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni during a plenum session and vote in the Knesset on May 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“High Court justices are very serious and professional people,” Shaked said. “The Knesset is the constituent assembly, which defines and determines the Basic Laws. [The justices] have to interpret the laws in accordance with the Basic Laws, and I don’t believe a majority on the Supreme Court would take such a step.

“I very much hope this doesn’t happen, and I don’t believe it will,” she added.

The nation-state 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.”

The law also downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

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.

Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, December 16, 2014. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

But critics, both at home and abroad, say it undermines the constitution’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.

In its petition to the court, the left-wing Meretz party said the law contradicts a previous basic law passed in 1992 that guarantees “human dignity” for all citizens of Israel.

Representatives of the Druze and Bedouin communities, as well as Arab Israelis, have also petitioned the court to overturn the law.

Last week, retired Supreme Court judge Salim Joubran spoke out against the “unnecessary and bad” law. In an Israel Radio interview, Joubran said the law creates “a superior class and an inferior class,” and called for it to be “nullified as quickly as possible.”

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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