Salim Joubran, first Arab Israeli Supreme Court justice, dies at 76

Joubran served as deputy chief of court, was first Arab to chair election committee, sent ex-president Katsav to prison for rape, and ruled in favor of same-sex surrogacy rights

Deputy President of Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran in the court in Jerusalem on June 14, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy President of Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran in the court in Jerusalem on June 14, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Salim Joubran, the first Arab Israeli to serve as a Supreme Court justice, died Friday at the age of 76 after a battle with cancer.

A Christian who grew up in the northern city of Haifa, Joubran was also the first Arab Israeli to chair the Central Elections Committee in 2015. He eventually served as deputy president of the court in June 2017 and retired in August that year.

Joubran was involved in several important verdicts. He was one of three judges who rejected the appeal of former president Moshe Katsav, sending him to prison for seven years for rape and sexual abuse.

A graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Joubran practiced private law from 1970 until 1982, before leaving to accept an appointment to the Haifa Magistrate’s Court. In 1993 he was appointed to the Haifa District Court and was then being elevated to the Supreme Court in 2003, first as an acting justice and then as a permanent member.

In March 2012, Joubran was criticized by some on the right when he refrained from singing the national anthem during a swearing-in ceremony for new Supreme Court justices. His position was supported by his predecessor in the post, justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who wrote in a letter that while non-Jewish citizens should show respect for the anthem by standing, they should not feel obligated to sing words that do not speak to their hearts.

On the bench, Joubran gained a reputation as a liberal reformer and an advocate for religious freedom, pitting him against the Orthodox rabbinic establishment.

Then-president Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with the head of the Central Elections Committee, Judge Salim Joubran, during a ceremony marking the delivery of the official results of the March 17 elections for the 20th Knesset, March 25, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In his final case — a 2017 ruling on same-sex peoples’ surrogacy rights — Joubran told the court: “I find it hard to agree with a situation that prevents single people and same-sex couples fulfilling their right to become parents through surrogacy agreements.”

“I myself cannot see any justice in giving preference to heterosexual parenting over same-sex parenting,” he added.

At his retirement ceremony, Joubran called for greater efforts at integration and development for the country’s Arab minority — and for more Arab judges in the judiciary.

“The state must do more to reach real equality between Arab and Jewish societies,” he said.

Joubran received several accolades for his work, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa in 2012, and the Knight of Quality Government honor in the field of law from the Movement for Quality Government in Israel in 2018.

Eulogizing Joubran, Hadash-Ta’al party chair Ayman Odeh said the “fine line” walked by Arab Israelis between their nationality and citizenship “is thinnest” upon becoming a judge in the Supreme Court.

“Justice Joubran walked that line standing tall and always adhered to the values of justice and democracy. Justice Joubran and his values will always be with us,” he wrote on X.

Former Supreme Court Judge Salim Joubran attends a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on January 31, 2018. (Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid posted that Joubran “dedicated his life to peace and equality in Israeli society,” and his death left Israelis with a “duty to continue to act for the good of society.”

Labor chair Merav Michaeli hailed Joubran as a judge who “was not afraid to take minority positions for what he believed in.”

“He believed with all his heart in equality and coexistence and proved it time after time in his decisions. He embodied coexistence, being a patriotic Israeli and a proud Arab of his tradition,” she wrote on X.

Father Youssef Yacoub, head of Haifa’s Maronite community, told the Walla news site Joubran was an “exceptional person.”

“He didn’t just succeed in the field of law, he was first and foremost… a good person with a big heart of gold,” Yacoub said. “Even when he traveled far to Europe and America, he never forgot to call the church every holiday and congratulate us. He was pleasant, soft-spoken, and respectful. A family man, a good and loving husband to his wife. He was a source of pride for the Maronite community, and we will miss him a lot.”

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