Grunis Seeking Protection for Family Court Judges Under Threat

Two months ago, several family court judges asked courts administration director Judge Michael Spitzer to take steps against incitement carried out by parents angered by child custody decisions.

Following threats against judges handling divorce and custody cases, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis and the head of the courts administration, Judge Michael Spitzer, have taken steps to ban demonstrations around the private homes of judges. In their attempt to obtain such a ban, Grunis and Spitzer have held meetings recently with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, police commissioner Yohanan Danino and head of the police investigations unit Yoav Segalovich.

These high-level discussions were held in response to threats and protests connected to family court judges, including Haifa District Court Judge Esperanza Alon. Ruling on custody issues involving Guy Shamir, a divorced Haifa resident, Alon awarded custody of Shamir's children to their mother. Two months ago, Shamir was indicted for threatening Alon by telling the judge's assistant that Alon "should protect her children."

Shamir and other divorced fathers had planned a demonstration in front of Alon's home. After 36 days in custody, Shamir was brought to Nazareth Magistrate's Court, where a judge ordered that he be kept under house arrest. Shortly after Shamir was detained, video clips surfaced on the Internet showing a demonstration staged by fathers in front of Alon's home, with protesters holding placards saying, "Let fathers live" and "Children don't divorce their fathers." Another clip describes "Esperanza's Conspiracy, alleging that Alon conspired to arrange the false arrest of a father due to threats he supposedly made against the judge and her children.

Two months ago, several family court judges turned to courts administration director Spitzer, asking that he take steps against incitement carried out by parents angered by child custody decisions.

Officials at the Justice Ministry refused to comment on meetings involving Grunis and Spitzer. Spokesmen for the courts administration confirmed that there has been such discussions, adding that "recently there have been instances of inappropriate gatherings around the private homes of judges. It bears mention that demonstrations around courthouses are not prohibited, so long as they are undertaken in line with procedure."

The courts administration spokesman added that an order has been issued by Weinstein regarding the freedom to demonstrate, with the order saying "a demonstration or protest vigil near the private home of a public service worker, who is not an elected official, is a grave phenomenon that constitutes an attempt to intimidate and deter the worker from carrying out his task, and such a demonstration is therefore banned."

Yet a review of this matter shows that the attorney general's order does not necessarily deem such demonstrations illegal. The order notes that "every citizen in Israel has the right to organize an assembly or demonstration, and take part in such an event, and that right must be respected."

Officials of the courts administration believe that when it comes to protests outside their homes, a distinction should be drawn between judges and elected public officials such as Knesset members and local council politicians. The order notes that a request for a permit to hold a demonstration near the private home of a public official can be denied if an alternative locale can be proposed to the demonstrators. One such alternative is the official's place of work.