Shaked tells ToI she was able to diversify the judiciary under current system

While the Netanyahu coalition claims the current selection committee produces an unrepresentative bench, Shaked says she used it to build 'an entire camp' of conservative justices

File: Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (left), with then-minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked and then-finance minister Moshe Kahlon at a meeting of the Judicial Selection Committee, at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem, on February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Ayelet Shaked, who served as justice minister from 2015-19, said she was able to introduce greater diversity among judges throughout the Israeli court system by means of the current judicial selection committee, which the Netanyahu coalition is planning to restructure because it claims the composition of the committee has been abused by Israel’s judges to “choose themselves” and prevent a more diverse judiciary.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Thursday, Shaked, who chaired the selection committee as justice minister for four years under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, specified that she promoted diversity by appointing the High Court justice Yosef Elron, who is of Mizrahi origin (as the child of Iraqi immigrants) and considered conservative. Other justices seen as conservative who were appointed in this period include David Mintz (who is Orthodox and lives in the West Bank settlement of Dolev), Yael Willner (who is also Orthodox) and Alex Stein.

“As minister of justice, I led a diversification of the [judicial] system in all the courts. In the magistrates and district courts, we advanced Mizrahi and Druze judges, who we sought out with great care,” she said.

“I appointed the first ultra-Orthodox judge, female Druze judge, and Qadi woman (Muslim religious judge).

“After quite a struggle, I appointed Justice Elron to the Supreme Court, and Justice Stein, who is originally of Russian origin.” She added: “And I appointed the first Orthodox woman to the Supreme Court, Justice Willner.”

Said Shaked: “It is certainly possible to diversify [under the existing system.]”

Supreme court justice Yosef Elron, December 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“When I was appointed as [justice] minister, there was only one conservative justice, Noam Solberg. Today there is an entire camp.”

Indeed, legal analysts and those with knowledge of the justices’ background and orientation assess that at least seven of the 15 current Supreme Court justices are considered to be conservative.

Justice Yael Willner. (Ministry of Justice)

Shaked’s comments came ahead of next week’s opening of the Knesset summer session, in the course of which Netanyahu has promised to legislate sweeping judicial reform “one way or another.”

Last month, he suspended the legislation to enable talks on potential compromise proposals, which are being held under the aegis of President Isaac Herzog.

However, the coalition has formally submitted for its second and third (final readings) legislation that would restructure the judicial selection committee to give the coalition near absolute control over the appointment of judges throughout the system, including full authority over the first two appointments to the Supreme Court in each government’s term, and the right to choose the Supreme Court president.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has claimed the legislation is needed in order to prevent a situation in which he says the justices choose themselves, and to enable a more widely representative bench.

In fact, under the current system, both the justices and the coalition representatives on the committee have veto power over Supreme Court appointments, meaning that candidates have to be chosen by consensus.

Unveiling his sweeping reform package on January 4, Levin claimed: “We go to the polls, vote, elect, and time after time, people we didn’t elect choose for us. Many sectors of the public look to the judicial system and do not find their voices heard,” he charged. “That is not democracy.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin attends a rally in support of the government’s planned judicial overhaul outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 27, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

In his speech to a mass pro-overhaul rally on Thursday night, Levin declared: “We want a Supreme Court for everyone — liberals, conservatives, right, left, everybody.”

He claimed that “the time has come for a High Court that does not give rights to the families of terrorists, and does not permit fake memorial services together with terror supporters.” Israel needs a court that “punishes rapists and doesn’t seek ways to protect them,” he said. “A court that protects IDF soldiers and not the terrorists’ neighbors.”

His predecessor, opposition MK Gideon Sa’ar, called Levin’s address “one of the gravest speeches of incitement to date against the judicial system that he heads.” Sa’ar said it was designed to “torpedo the compromise talks and continue the delegitimization of the judicial system, in order to dismantle it as an independent system and to place it under his control.”

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