At a time when the Knesset is enacting a plethora of anti-democratic legislation, it's important that the Supeme Court work to defend human and civil rights and serve as a counterweight to pressure from the legislature to harm minorities, freedom of expression and the right to protest against the government. Absent a strong judiciary, there is no other body capable of preserving Israeli democracy.
The need to reinforce the court with justices of a liberal worldview, one that emphasizes human rights, has only become more crucial with the retirement of justices Ayala Procaccia and Edmond Levy and the impending retirement of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. Therefore, it is extremely worrying that Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman intends to promote Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg to the Supreme Court.
Sohlberg's rulings over the course of his 13 years on the bench of the magistrate's and district courts show that he favors bolstering the state's power more than he values human and civil rights. It's thus no wonder that his appointment enjoys the support of the ministers and Knesset members on the Judicial Appointments Committee, all of whom represent rightist parties.
In the past, Sohlberg permitted an Israeli who dodged the draft to be stripped of his passport. He rejected a petition by civic activists who wanted their nationality to be listed as "Israeli" on their identity cards. He acquitted a policeman who shot and killed a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, even though he concluded that the policeman "killed the deceased without cause." He offered Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburg - whose book "Baruch Hagever" lauds the perpetrator of the 1994 Hebron massacre, Baruch Goldstein - a deal that would end the legal proceedings against him.
Sohlberg has ruled on many libel cases, and he frequently opted to award compensation to the plaintiffs instead of upholding freedom of the press. For instance, in the case of Captain R. - an officer in the Givati Brigade who killed a Palestinian girl in the Gaza Strip and later filed a libel suit against Ilana Dayan, presenter of the investigative television program "Uvda" ("Fact" ) - Sohlberg ruled against the defendants and required them to pay heavy compensation.
Sohlberg's appointment the Supreme Court, even if it is "balanced" by the simultaneous appointment of a less conservative judge, ought to worry anyone who fears for the preservation of human and civil rights in Israel. And that is especially true when we are talking about an appointee who is likely to become Supreme Court president someday.
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