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Record 54 new judges sworn in

Rivlin, Hayut denounce attacks on judicial system at ceremony for new judges

President says ‘red lines are crossed in the name of so-called governance’; Supreme Court chief justice decries ‘violation of the independent, neutral status of courts’

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a swearing-in ceremony for new judges at the President's Residence, Jerusalem, January 26, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a swearing-in ceremony for new judges at the President's Residence, Jerusalem, January 26, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

In comments made at a swearing-in ceremony for an all-time record 54 new judges, President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday assailed critics of the judicial system, saying some of the attacks were illegitimate.

“In recent years, the legal system has come under sharp criticism, some of which has blatantly crossed the threshold of legitimacy. The discourse on social media fuels these attacks, often while taking them out of context,” Rivlin said.

“On top of all this, tensions are rising between the professional echelon in the civil service, sometimes disparagingly referred to as ‘clerks,’ and the political leadership in Israel, and it seems as if it is facing an unbearable breaking point,” Rivlin said. “In the name of so-called ‘governance,’ boundaries and red lines are crossed.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut expressed similar concerns about political meddling, decrying the “violation of the independent and neutral status of the courts.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut speaks at a swearing-in ceremony for new judges at the President’s Residence, Jerusalem, January 26, 2021 (Screen grab)

Hayut said that it was “no secret” that the work of the Judicial Appointments Committee was “fraught with difficulties” and attempts to interfere with its actions.

“I see fit to reiterate that there is no room for repeated attempts to drag the court system and the process of appointing judges into the political arena while blaming judicial decisions and harming the independent and neutral status of the courts,” she said.

“The argument made that the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, have positioned themselves in the political arena, is baseless. Judges discuss and decide legal questions brought before them, in accordance with the relevant legal provisions,” Hayut said. “In my view, this is clear evidence that the court is independent and apolitical and that its decisions are balanced.”

Justice Minister Benny Gantz (R), President Reuven Rivlin (2R) and Chief Justice Esther Hayut (L) hosting a swearing-in ceremony for new judges at the President’s Residence, Jerusalem, January 26, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Before the Knesset dissolved last month over the failure to pass a state budget, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White parties reportedly negotiated an agreement to avoid new elections that included reducing then-justice minister Avi Nissenkorn’s powers, a Likud demand. Blue and White denied reaching such a deal.

Netanyahu was said to be primarily interested in preventing Nissenkorn from appointing a state attorney and attorney general — two positions seen as critical to the prime minister, whose criminal trial is slated to resume next week — and new Supreme Court judges of his liking.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a face mask in line due to the coronavirus pandemic, in the courtroom as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool Photo via AP)

Nissenkorn also opposed efforts by Netanyahu allies to reform the justice system, appoint more conservative judges and limit the power of the courts more broadly.

Nissenkorn submitted his resignation after leaving Gantz’s Blue and White party, days before the most recent swearing-in ceremony for judges in December.

Prior to that event, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, MK Osnat Mark of Likud and Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser boycotted a meeting of the committee over the nomination of two Arab justices they accused of anti-Zionism, and claimed — apparently mistakenly — that the panel could not legally convene without them.

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