Sa’ar appoints temporary Supreme Court justice after deadlock in appointments

In rare move, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Shaul Shohat will serve a 6-month term on the high court while members of the Judicial Selection Committee continue to battle it out

Justice Minister Gideon Saar leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 22, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Justice Minister Gideon Saar leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 22, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

In a rare move, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has appointed a temporary justice to the Supreme Court, after the Judicial Selection Committee hit a deadlock in its decisions.

On Thursday, Sa’ar announced the appointment of Shaul Shohat, the deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court, to a temporary, six-month tenure on the Supreme Court.

The move, which was agreed to by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, has not been utilized for 14 years, according to Hebrew media reports.

The Supreme Court is short two justices following the retirement of Hanan Melcer and Meni Mazuz. Two more justices, George Kara and Neal Hendel, are slated to retire next year.

But last week Sa’ar suspended a meeting of the Judicial Selection Committee after it repeatedly failed to come to an agreement on the appointment of new justices.

“Despite many efforts made to formulate an agreement to elect judges in accordance with the requirement of the law, this has not been successful so far,” Sa’ar said in a statement announcing the decision to delay the meeting.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge Shaul Shohat (Israel Courts)

The selection panel — made up of Sa’ar, Hayut, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, MKs Efrat Rayten and Simcha Rothman, Supreme Court justices Uzi Vogelman and Yitzhak Amit, and two Israel Bar Association attorneys — was unable to reach any agreement to select four names from the 24 potential candidates for the jobs.

Shohat is not one of the candidates on the shortlist for the appointments, although he has been in the past. His temporary role could theoretically be extended by Sa’ar for an additional six months.

Shaked and Rothman are lobbying for more conservative-leaning judges to be appointed, while Hayut and other members of the panel have been pushing for liberal justices. Members of the Israel Bar Association have also been pushing for one of the seats to be filled by an attorney, not a judge.

Other names proposed include senior lawyers in the private sector, member of academia, a former chief military prosecutor and a former chief public defender — all spanning the political spectrum.

Among the leading candidates to fill Kara’s seat, which is reserved for an Arab justice, is Tel Aviv District Court Judge Khaled Kaboub. Kaboub would be the first Muslim justice appointed to the court.

Illustrative — Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut (C) arrives for a discussion on a petition against the coronavirus restrictions on demonstrations in Jerusalem, on October 13, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A favorite of Hayut’s is said to be Judge Ruth Ronen, also from the Tel Aviv District Court.

Jerusalem District Court Judge Gila Kanfei-Steinitz, who is the wife of Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, is being considered as well.

Shaked and Rothman are opposed to all three as the former two are seen as more liberal, while the latter is not particularly conservative.

Sa’ar has been attempting to broker a compromise deal between the warring members of the committee, but has yet to be successful.

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