Top judge says lawmakers fuel ‘violent discourse’ with attacks on Supreme Court
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Top judge says lawmakers fuel ‘violent discourse’ with attacks on Supreme Court

In broadside against right-wing critics, Esther Hayut slams condemnation of justices that ‘sometimes borders on expressions of real incitement’

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut speaks during a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed Supreme Court judge at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on August 9, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut speaks during a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed Supreme Court judge at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on August 9, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut on Tuesday hit out at lawmakers over recent criticism of the court, saying their remarks often bordered on incitement and were fueling a “violent discourse” among the Israeli public.

While acknowledging that “like every other government authority, we are not beyond criticism,” Hayut bemoaned that such criticism of the court has not been condemned or reined in.

“When comments are heard against us, the judges — comments which are far from decent and on point — we should expect that there will be those who will condemn them in the name of statehood,” Hayut said at an event marking 70 years of Israel’s judicial system at President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“Unfortunately such a condemnation doesn’t come, even though these sayings sometimes border on expressions of real incitement and come, among others, from elected officials,” she said.

Hayut charged that the stinging rhetoric employed by some lawmakers was trickling down to the public and poisoning the country’s political discourse.

“It is therefore not surprising that some of the public views this as a license and permission to use the same disparaging and harsh language. As a result of this, a violent discourse is spreading among us that is obtaining a harmful grip on all levels of our lives,” she said.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut (L) at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on October 23, 2018. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

Hayut did not cite any specific derogatory statements but alluded to a ruling last week allowing a US student accused of supporting boycotts of Israel to enter the country, after which a minister from the ruling Likud party accused the court of “continuing to act against democracy ”

“It is greatly regrettable that recently we are witness that there are those for whom the operation of the [judicial] system as an independent system, not tied to another authority, is disgusting in their view. Those same people went even further and described it as anti-democratic, anti-Zionist, and even as a judicial dictatorship that needs to be smashed,” Hayut said Tuesday.

“One who makes it his objective to harm the independence of the judicial authority will find himself critically harming the democratic regime in Israel.”

Also speaking at the event was President Reuven Rivlin, who called for ensuring judicial independence.

“Judicial independence is the basis of every judge’s ruling, whether they are conservative or activist in outlook. The principle of judicial independence, or the impartiality of the judge, is a fundamental principle without which there is no law, no justice and no truth,” he said.

With this, Rivlin said “judicial independence does not mean judicial activism,” a doctrine the Supreme Court has long been accused of implementing by many on the Israeli right.

Hayut has previously struck out at what she considers efforts to undermine the court’s independence, including in May when she called a bill that would limit the power of the Supreme Court to strike down Knesset legislation it deems unconstitutional an “unprecedented assault” on the judicial branch.

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