Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch launched an unprecedented attack on ministers and Knesset members Wednesday, accusing them of waging a "campaign of delegitimization" against the judicial system.
"A campaign is being waged that gathers speed from year to year, with the goal of weakening the judicial system and the Supreme Court at its head," Beinisch said in an address at the opening session of a legal conference.
"This is a campaign of delegitimization led by a number of politicians, Knesset members and even cabinet ministers, who exploit their [parliamentary] immunity and give the general public false and misleading information that has deteriorated into incitement against the court, the justices and the judiciary's work," she said.
"And then, like the robbed Cossack, they loudly declare that the public has no faith in the court and the judicial system. This is a campaign of deception by its very nature, and its character is earthshaking and poisonous. This is the method of propaganda. And it entails open incitement against the court and its justices."
Beinisch, who will retire in February, said she has warned repeatedly in recent years about an accelerating trend toward undermining the court, limiting its power and thereby sabotaging its ability to defend the state's democratic values. "The writing was on the wall," she said. "The warning was heard, but no one rose up."
She particularly lambasted a proposal to require Supreme Court nominees to be vetted by the Knesset Constitution Committee - a bill the government ultimately iced even before it came up for a vote in the Knesset. While U.S. Supreme Court justices are vetted by the Senate, she said, this model can't simply be copied to Israel, whose system of government is different.
"The bill's sponsors seek to take one element out of the whole - hearings for justices," she said. "But do they also propose adopting the unquestioned respect for the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings?"
Letting politicians vet Supreme Court nominees would destroy the justices' independence, Beinisch charged, "and this independence is our pride and the source of our strength."
Beinisch rejected the claim that the court is alienated from the public, insisting that "nothing could be further from reality than to say that Israel's judges are disconnected from the people and their feelings." She also blasted efforts to stigmatize the court as the bastion of a wealthy, left-wing elite.
"Well-meaning people who don't know any better have bought into this false image," she said. "Supreme Court justices didn't grow up in bastions of the rich. They grew up among their people and come from various strata of Israeli society. They worked and invested and had professional accomplishments. Their parents also weren't born with a silver spoon. So why attach this stigma to them and incite against them? This is propaganda through which 'professional elite' has become a curse word."
She harshly criticized MKs for "daring" to say the court is a "rotten institution" and insisted that the public supports the court. "People come up to me in the street, express support and say 'we're the silent majority,'" Beinisch said. "To these friends for whom the state's fundamental values are dear to their hearts - I don't know if you're the majority, but I know you're silent."
Beinisch said there is a balance of power between the Supreme Court and the Knesset: The former can overturn the latter's laws, but the latter can annul the former's rulings via legislation. Such a balance of power is the norm in all democracies, she said.
"But this contempt and scorn whose goal is to weaken and undermine faith in the court - which is itself a product of the system and whose only power comes from the public's faith - is a phenomenon unknown to us in any democratic system," she said. "And it will end in undermining the democracy on whose foundations our society rests."
This isn't an idle threat, she added: There have already been attempts to amend "Basic Laws that express the values of our system." Such efforts began several years ago, but have recently accelerated.
Most of the legislation in question, she said, isn't aimed directly at the court, but rather at "the democratic values the court represents." This legislation includes bills to harm minorities, women and the poor, as well as to weaken the human rights organizations that defend them.
"The claim that thousands of cases are filed by these human rights organizations, and that this is the source of the courts' backlogs, is incorrect," she said. "Most of the cases are filed by the parties concerned."
An associate of Beinisch said afterward that she decided to "defend the judges with her own body, because she thinks a red line has been crossed. This is a very slippery slope that could lead to Germany of the 1930s, when the majority rode roughshod over the rights of minorities."
The conference, organized by the Israeli Association for Public Law, took place at the Dead Sea.
Meanwhile, the race for three open seats on the Supreme Court took a surprising turn on Wednesday when former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was added to the candidate list at the last minute by none other than Beinisch herself. But the four politicians on the nine-member Judicial Appointments Committee are expected to oppose his candidacy, and committee sources said they don't expect Beinisch, who heads the block of three justices on the panel, to fight for him.
The final candidate list is slated to be published next week, and the committee will interview the candidates in mid-December. If all goes well, the new justices are expected to be chosen on January 6.
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