A whopping 73 percent of Israelis think judges should not be chosen on the basis of their ethnic origin, even if this means the Supreme Court winds up without a single Mizrahi justice, a new poll has found.
The court has been without a Mizrahi justice - of Middle Eastern descent - since Justice Edmond Levy's recent retirement. The list of potential nominees for three vacant or soon-to-be-vacant Supreme Court slots was reopened last month due to complaints that the original list contained no Mizrahim.
Only 23 percent of respondents thought the court should always have a Mizrahi justice, while 4 percent didn't express an opinion. The poll was conducted for Haaretz by the Dialog company on Tuesday among a representative sample of 505 Israelis.
Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University's statistics department, who supervised the poll, said that while the huge majority of those surveyed opposed choosing judges on the basis of their ethnic origins, that doesn't mean that those who have been pushing for the appointment of a Mizrahi to replace Levy have failed.
"The public isn't indifferent to the campaign for appointing a Mizrahi justice, or to the fact that there is no Mizrahi justice on the Supreme Court," he said. "But at the same time, the public doesn't want to be identified with the statement that in the absence of a Mizrahi justice, we must always appoint a Mizrahi justice. The emphasis is on the 'always.' It's considered politically incorrect to insist that there must be a Mizrahi justice before examining the candidates' qualifications."
The poll also examined the public's attitudes toward a series of bills recently discussed by the Knesset which critics say would undermine the Supreme Court, human rights organizations and freedom of the press.
The poll asked respondents whether they agreed with critics that the bills undermine democracy, or with proponents' claim that the bills are worthy legislation that give the majority the ability to govern.
The gap here was narrower, but the critics still scored a clear victory: A plurality of 46 percent said the bills undermined democracy, compared to 37 percent who deemed them worthy legislation and 17 percent who said they didn't know.
A similar proportion, 45 percent, said they were unhappy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attitude toward the justice system and with the bills the coalition has proposed on this subject, compared to 39 percent who said they were satisfied with the premier's conduct on this issue. People's responses on this issue correlated closely with their responses to the question of whether they were satisfied with Netanyahu's job performance overall, Fuchs said.
Among those satisfied with his overall performance, 68 percent were satisfied with his attitude toward the justice system. Among those dissatisfied with his job performance, only 7 percent were satisfied with his attitude toward the justice system.
Asked about a bill that would sharply increase the maximum compensation in libel suits, respondents were split, with 46 percent supporting the bill and 48 percent opposed. Nevertheless, 43 percent said they thought Netanyahu was trying to reduce freedom of the press, compared to only 38 percent who said they did not believe that to be the case.
"The fact that 43 percent of the public thinks the prime minister is trying to curtail freedom of the press ought to light a warning light for a prime minister who at least paints himself as a defender of democracy," Fuchs said. "Even if the prime minister isn't actually trying to curtail freedom of the press, it's important for him to note that this is how he is seen by the public. When democracy is under attack, how the prime minister acts is very important, but so is how the public thinks the prime minister is acting."
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