Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut on Wednesday warned against “unprecedented” efforts to politicize Israel’s judicial system, pushing back against Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s blistering criticism of the state prosecution and judiciary.
“These days, unprecedented in our political history, require all of us to stand firm and to do our work without fear,” Hayut said at an event in the northern city of Nazareth.
“Politicization of the judicial system is likely to completely undermine its foundations as an independent and objective system,” she added, warning it could undermine the public’s faith in the courts.
Her comments came a day after Ohana, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, accused state prosecutors operating under his purview of engaging in a blind persecution of public officials they feel threaten their standing, all while being supported by a “cult” of fawning reporters.
Responding to his accusations, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Attorney Shai Nitzan said Tuesday they “regret” his comments and “reject the attempt to cast aspersions on the work of police and prosecution officials without any factual basis.”
While stressing the courts are not immune from criticism, Hayut said caution must be exercised to ensure that the fault-finding is not aimed at delegitimizing public institutions and civil servants.
“Without them all of us will have difficulty maintaining the rule of law,” she said.
Ohana’s remarks Tuesday were in response to the investigations into Netanyahu, as well as a new probe this week into possible tampering by aides to the premier against a state’s witness. Right-wing leaders have attacked the police searches of the aides’ phones as anti-democratic. Netanyahu on Monday called it “a terror attack against Israeli democracy.”
In his speech, Ohana said he had been familiar with the prosecution for years due to his past work as a lawyer, and acknowledged there were many “diligent and devoted attorneys” who seek justice within the system.
But he appeared to allude to a so-called deep-state element within the system, saying “there is another prosecution — a prosecution within the prosecution. There are those who, alongside a small cult of court reporters, have managed to establish a perception that a war of light against darkness [is being waged].”
Any complaints against the justice system are characterized by such “court reporters” as “an attack on the rule of law,” he said.
“Political and public careers were destroyed one after the other” by this system, the minister added.
The prosecution was thus “turning itself into a political player” and setting its agenda according to political developments, Ohana claimed.
Ohana accused prosecutors of approaching the criminal investigations into Netanyahu, and the recent hearing process in the cases, with their minds already made up against the premier.
He said he had sought to open a probe in the “hundreds of leaks” from the prime minister’s investigations, but was refused amid “an utter refusal to find the truth.”
The Likud minister denied he was acting on behalf of Netanyahu, saying “these issues burn within me.”
Netanyahu faces pending charges of fraud, breach of trust in three separate criminal cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies any wrongdoing and claims to be the victim of a witch hunt involving the opposition, the media, the police and state prosecutors.