Israel’s First Arab Supreme Court Justice, Salim Joubran, Retiring

The Haifa native often dissented from the majority, particularly in cases involving Israeli Arabs such as small communities' admissions committees

Justice Salim Joubran and Supreme Court President Miriam Naor at the court, August 3, 2017.
Justice Salim Joubran and Supreme Court President Miriam Naor at the court, August 3, 2017. Emil Salman

The country’s first Arab Supreme Court justice, Salim Joubran, is retiring Thursday at age 70, ending a career in which the Haifa native often represented the views of Israel’s Arab minority, often in a dissenting opinion.

That was the case, for example, in a petition challenging a law letting small communities establish admissions committees to screen potential residents. In a 5-to-4 decision, the court declined to strike down the law; Joubran scolded his colleagues in the majority.

After Joubran’s departure, one other Christian Arab will remain on the Supreme Court, George Karra, who was elected to his position in February.

Joubran was the lone dissenter when the other eight justices on a panel upheld a law raising the minimum number of seats to four that parties need to reach the Knesset. He was also the sole dissenter in a five-justice panel that upheld the suspension from parliament of Arab MK Haneen Zoabi for comments she made after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in 2014.

An announcement by Joubran Thursday dealt not with Israeli Arabs but with same-sex couples and a petition by the Association of Israeli Gay Fathers seeking to secure gay fathers’ right to arrange surrogate pregnancies in Israel. Joubran said the court was deferring a ruling on the case because the Knesset is currently considering legislation on surrogacy.

Justice Salim Joubran at the Supreme Court, May 2017.
Emil Salman

Joubran was particularly outspoken on the bench against government corruption. In the case of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was released from prison about a month ago after serving over 16 months on corruption convictions, Joubran was in the minority in arguing that Olmert should also have been found guilty of transferring half a million shekels ($139,700) in bribes to his brother.

Joubran was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2003 after serving many years as a criminal court judge at the Haifa District Court. Over the next three months he will remain at the Supreme Court to deliver opinions in cases assigned to him that are still pending.

One involves a retrial request by Ovadia Shalom, who has been in prison for 22 years following a conviction for murdering a lawyer, Shmuel Levinson, who had been named chairman of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel shortly before he was killed.