Opposition MK Shelly Yachimovich on Monday accused Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of laying the foundations for the dismissal of Supreme Court justices who are not to her liking, charging that Shaked was trying to “scare” the nation’s top judges into towing the line.
Shaked has threatened on multiple occasions recently that there would be an “earthquake” in Israel if the court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, even deliberates petitions against the recently passed Jewish state law, regardless of its final ruling. Shaked asserted that the court had no jurisdiction over the matter as 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.
At an emergency recess session called by opposition members to debate “Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s attack on the High Court of Justice and the danger to democracy,” Yachimovich, a former leader of the Labor party, said: “I suspect that your speech of slander and incitement against the Supreme Court was not only intended to scare the justices and cajole them into rulings that are to your liking, but worse: that you are knowingly planting the seeds that will prepare the groundwork for the dismissal of Supreme Court justice and the dismissal of the Supreme Court president.
“Why don’t you save time and give the Supreme Court a detailed list of what it can and cannot rule on, which decisions you approve of and what you will not tolerate?” the Zionist Union MK said. “You’ve built, step by step, the alleged illegitimacy of our Supreme Court, you are inciting against it with cold calculation.”
Despite the session — while the Knesset is still on summer recess — requiring the signatures of at least 25 Knesset members in order to take place, only 13 legislators turned up. Shaked, clearly unhappy with her unceremonious summons to parliament, strolled into the hall 10 minutes late, after MKs complained that she was missing out on the criticism being directed at her.
Once she did arrive, the critique — of her recent speeches as well as an interview she gave to Yedioth Ahronoth earlier this month slamming the court as leftist — appeared to fall on deaf ears, albeit present ones. And even with just a handful of Knesset members in the room, the debate soon spiraled into the familiar shouting match that the Knesset’s halls had been deprived of since recess began in July.
Meretz chair MK Tamar Zandberg slammed Shaked’s apparent claim that Israel’s top court had for many years acted as “a branch of Meretz,” Israel’s staunchly dovish party, and her calls to limit its power to annul Knesset legislation.
“The High Court of Justice is the focus of an extreme, unbridled attack aimed at clipping its wings and distorting the foundations on which it was established,” Zandberg said. “Don’t you dare raise a hand against the High Court of Justice, which safeguards the basic principle according to which all humans are born equal. While the High Court of Justice has never been a branch of Meretz, we stand by it because it protects the rule of law.”
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 power to circumvent Knesset legislation, but have made little headway despite having Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support.
Zandberg said that the proposals were “dangerous to Israeli democracy and bring us close to the non-liberal democracies of Eastern Europe and to dictators worldwide.”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid charged: “This is a war over the soul of Israel… You cannot say that this is a great country and at the same time try to dismantle all the institutions which hold it together. All that is good, decent and honest is under attack, and it is time that we launch a counter attack.”
Meretz MK Michal Rozin also dug into the “branch of Meretz” claim, saying that Shaked wanted to rid the Supreme Court of the party’s principles of freedom and justice.
“Shaked’s will is felt in the justice system — from the deepening of her control in the Judicial Appointments Committee, which has become a committee for the appointment of conservatives, to rulings which adopt her anti-constitutional lines, such as allowing the theft of Palestinian lands by the Jerusalem District Court. This spirit is aimed at applying sovereignty in the occupied territories, reducing the freedom of the citizens and expanding the Orthodox control on our daily lives,” Rozin accused from the Knesset podium.
While appearing uninterested for most of the opposition MKs speeches, reading from her phone for the most part, Shaked interrupted Rozin’s speech at the mention of the “Meretz party branch,” asserting that she had not even said the contentious quote during her interview.
“Apparently, none of you even read it,” she mocked. “Those were the interviewer’s words, I didn’t say them.”
When her turn to speak came, Shaked pulled no punches, listing criticisms of the court voiced by left-wing politicians after rulings they had opposed and claiming that the real disrespect of the rule of law came not from her, but from those attacking her.
“Your crass statements turn this discussion into a farce,” she berated the handful of MKs in the room. “You were never advocates of the court and you certainly set no example, not in terms of manners, and not in terms of etiquette. You don’t really want an independent, strong and upstanding court. You want a subservient court. You prefer it tamed. As long as it is aligned with your [opinions] it is the source of justice; the second it proposes an approach that is slightly different you are ready to burn down the clubhouse.”
Either shocked at the harsh rebuke, or feigning shock, several opposition MKs, led by Zandberg and Rozin, responded with mainly undecipherable shouts calling Shaked a “hypocrite.”
“Our democracy is not being demolished. It is steadily becoming more and more sophisticated. It is lively and it is magnificent,” Shaked went on, her voice steadily increasing in volume to drown out the heckling. “We have a country to protect. The rule of law must be preserved. We cannot accept a situation in which your criticism of the court is sinking to such depths to which you have recently succumbed.”
Shaked added: “As the minister of justice, I call upon those who sit in this House — on the Left and the Right — to maintain dignified discourse. We don’t have another legal system. Of course it is legitimate to express criticism against a ruling. It is acceptable to argue over ideas, it is permissible to argue over areas of authority. I do so from time to time, but we must maintain respectability and dignified discourse.”
The Knesset winter session begins on October 15.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.