Supreme Court chief accuses politicians of seeking to ‘destroy’ justice system

Amid harsh criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Esther Hayut warns that discourse about court is ‘deteriorating’ to ‘dangerous places’

Supreme Court Chief of Justice Esther Hayut speaks at an Israel Bar Association conference in Tel Aviv, September 02, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Supreme Court Chief of Justice Esther Hayut speaks at an Israel Bar Association conference in Tel Aviv, September 02, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut on Monday cautioned that the political discourse surrounding the court system was devolving and warned that attacks on the justice system were “dangerous.”

“Regrettably, civil dialogue and personal responsibility have given way to confrontational discourse that has bred attacks on the judiciary and its judges and strident calls to harm them and curtail their powers,” Hayut said in a speech at the Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat.

Hayut’s comments followed an attack by Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej against a Sunday decision by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that seemed to legitimize Jewish prayer on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

The court, in a near-unprecedented decision, ruled in favor of three Jewish teenagers who were temporarily barred from the Temple Mount compound after they bowed down and recited the “Shema Yisrael” prayer.

In his ruling, Judge Zion Saharay said that he did not consider bowing down and reciting a prayer sufficient cause to curtail freedom of religion for fear it would cause a disturbance at the site.

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej told the Kan public broadcaster in an interview that the court decision apparently backing Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount “bordered on stupidity.”

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej attends a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It reminds me of how one idiot can burn a whole forest,” he said. “It is not a judicial decision, but political. ”

The status quo in effect for five decades allows non-Muslims to visit but not pray on the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and home to the third-holiest shrine in Islam.

“Everyone has their place to pray, with the Temple Mount for Muslims and the Western Wall for Jews,” Frej said. “The majority want things to continue as they are. We must not play with fire. We are heading toward an escalation.”

Hayut said that while criticism of the court was welcome, discourse should remain “civil and respectful.”

“One can talk about the court’s errors, and about the need to file an appeal or request another hearing,” Hayut said. “But to my dismay, public discourse today… is deteriorating and going to places that we have not seen before, […] and these are extremely dangerous places.”

She charged that such discourse stemmed from politicians’ “dreams to destroy” the Supreme Court.

Right-wing lawmakers have for years accused the court of overstepping its mandate and encroaching on the legislature’s authority by striking down laws and other policies it deems unconstitutional.

During an event marking Israel’s 74th Independence Day earlier this month, lawmaker Yitzhak Pindrus said his dream was to “blow up” the Supreme Court.

A member of United Torah Judaism, a Haredi opposition party, Pindrus made the inflammatory statement while speaking at a panel arranged by the Nehora high school yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Mevo Horon.

The Supreme Court president had previously defended the judiciary in February, after opposition lawmaker MK David Amsalem claimed that Hayut and her colleagues harbored racist views against Mizrahi Jews. In response, Hayut wrote a letter of complaint against Amsalem’s remarks, which followed a letter of warning she filed against him last year.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed