ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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‘This wasn’t an easy time for me’: Arab Israeli Supreme Court justice Kara retires

Outgoing judge compares rampant crime to a contagious disease, urges increased enforcement; was among judges who convicted former president Katsav of rape

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ester Hayut with outgoing Supreme Court judge George Kara, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Ester Hayut with outgoing Supreme Court judge George Kara, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Supreme Court Justice George Kara retired Sunday at the age of 70, sharing the challenges he faced as the only Arab judge on the top court and urging law enforcement to adopt a hardline approach against crime.

“During these past few years the state and society in Israel have experienced polarizing political and social processes that have widened the schism between Arabs and Jews,” the veteran judge said during his retirement ceremony.

“This wasn’t an easy time for me,” he said; But stressed that his decisions and professional opinions were always made according to the law and “in the pursuit of truth.”

He added: “As I used to tell my interns sometimes, being part of the majority is good but being part of the minority isn’t bad.”

Addressing rampant violence in Israel — particularly, he said, in Arab society — the judge compared the phenomenon to a contagious disease.

“It’s more like a disease nesting in a human’s body,” Kara said, “As it does within society. It’s contagious when the violence crosses sectors. As long as the immune system is strong, crime is low and can be controlled, but lately, society’s immune system is weak.”

He continued, “The race for easy money obtained by criminal activity, the weakening of the family unit, the loosening of parental authority, the violent discourse, and the lack of enforcement and deterrence” have created ideal conditions for crime to resurface and spread across society quickly, “as innocent citizens are often the ones who pay the price.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ester Hayut with outgoing Supreme Court judge George Kara and Supreme court justices at a ceremony held for Kara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“As a first emergency step, enforcement should be increased,” Kara said. “But the challenge is massive and there’s a lot of work to do.

“In the long term,” he said, “we should invest in education and tolerance, dialogue and nonviolence. But until those seeds can grow and in order to allow them the right conditions, uncompromising enforcement is required immediately.”

The judge argued that in this regard, the Supreme Court has shown its commitment to increased enforcement efforts by imposing more severe punishments for offenses relating to violence and weapons.

Kara also suggested “reevaluating criminal proceedings” by “removing barriers that prolong processes.”

“Through the cooperation of all law enforcement entities, I’m sure that the State of Israel, which overcame the coronavirus pandemic and served as an example to other countries, is capable of eradicating a pandemic of crime that deals a heavy blow to the personal security and quality of life of its citizens,” he concluded.

During his five-year tenure as a Supreme Court justice, Kara voiced repeated opposition to the demolition of houses owned by families of terrorists as a deterrent measure, claiming it “inevitably harms the innocent” and “serves as a collective punishment” that has no justification.

A minority among Supreme Court justices on this issue, his view was shared by former Supreme Court justice Menachem (Meni) Mazuz, who retired last year.

Then-Supreme Court justice Menachem Mazuz, at the court on July 14, 2016. (Flash90)

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut said Kara had been an excellent and meticulous judge throughout his rich career.

“The combination of judicial excellence that characterizes George and the values of tolerance and understanding of others that guided his path is evident in every one of his rulings,” Hayut said. “This combination is also what led George up the hierarchy of the judicial system all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Born to a distinguished Arab Christian family in Jaffa, Kara completed his law degree at Tel Aviv University in 1973 and opened a private law firm in 1975, before being appointed a judge on the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court in 1989. In 2000 Kara joined the Tel Aviv District Court and 10 years later was appointed a senior court judge. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2017.

During his official nomination ceremony, held at then-president Reuven Rivlin’s official residence in Jerusalem, Kara refused to sing the national anthem “Hatikva” due to the sentence “The soul of a Jew yearns.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ester Hayut with outgoing Supreme Court judge George Kara and Supreme court justices at a ceremony held for Kara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He retires at the age of 70 — the mandatory retirement age for Israeli judges.

Presiding over hundreds of cases during his career, perhaps Kara’s most high-profile case was that of former president and convicted rapist Moshe Katsav in 2010.

Earlier this year, the Judicial Appointments Committee announced the appointments of four new Supreme Court justices, among them the court’s first Muslim and first Mizrahi woman.

The four new justices appointed to the 15-member court are Judge Ruth Ronnen, Judge Khaled Kabub, Judge Gila Kanfi-Steinitz and attorney Yechiel Kasher.

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