The past decade has seen a 33 percent drop in the public's faith in the Supreme Court, according to a decade-long University of Haifa study reported on yesterday in Haaretz.
The crisis in confidence is even sharper with regard to the public's faith in the court system itself, and among the ultra-Orthodox and settlers, doubters far outnumber believers.
The study's findings should serve as an alarm bell for anyone concerned about the future of Israeli democracy, the existence of which depends on a strong, independent judiciary. It is easy to pin the public's lack of confidence on judicial foot-dragging or disappointment in specific court rulings. These explanations, however, are too simplistic.
Those primarily responsible for the public's lack of trust are the politicians who have so doggedly striven to weaken the courts. Their battle has been waged on a number of fronts. The government avoids making controversial decisions or follows inequitable policy based on narrow political interests, such as ensuring welfare payments to yeshiva students. Such issues eventually reach the High Court of Justice, and the presiding justices - not the politicians themselves - are then targeted for criticism by the communities affected by their rulings.
The government has conspicuously ignored certain High Court rulings in recent years, and high-ranking politicians have distinguished themselves in slandering the judiciary. Among them were political figures facing criminal charges - from Aryeh Deri to Ehud Olmert - who sought to intimidate investigators, prosecutors and judges hearing their cases. There were also justice ministers like Haim Ramon and Daniel Friedmann who would undermine and denigrate the court system at every opportunity.
Ultra-Orthodox politicians have stepped up their campaign of defying the High Court, peaking with the protest staged by Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush opposite the prison where the parents of students from Immanuel are being held. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a limp reaction to Porush's actions and left him in his post, proving that he values keeping his coalition intact more than the honor of the Supreme Court.
Netanyahu and his partners in government must pull themselves together and give the judicial system the support it needs to operate properly, first and foremost by adhering to its rulings and condemning those who incite against it. Any other reaction will only deepen the current crisis and potentially lead to the destruction of Israeli democracy.
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