Only 7.7 Percent of Israeli Judges Are Arab, New Study Finds

Arabs constitute 20 percent of Israel's population but less than 8 percent of all judges, despite repeated promises to redress the imbalance.

Tomer Appelbaum

Only 7.7 percent of Israeli judges are Arab, despite repeated promises to redress the imbalance, a new study says. Arabs are about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

The study, published in the University of Haifa law journal “Mishpat Umimshal,” found that only 52 of Israel’s 672 judges are Arab. That is a slight improvement over 2008, when 40 of 580 judges, or 6.9 percent, were Arab. But it means that only 12 additional Arab judges have been appointed in the past six years.

Of the 52, one is on the Supreme Court (Justice Salim Joubran) and 10 in district courts; the remainder serve in labor or magistrate’s courts. Two district courts, the Jerusalem and central district courts, have no presiding Arab judges.

In 2008 the Knesset discussed increasing the number of Arabs in the civil service, including the judiciary. Moshe Gal, then director of the Courts Administration, told lawmakers “an enormous effort” was being made to recruit Arab judges and that if two candidates were otherwise comparable, the Arab one would be preferred. He argued that Arab lawyers didn’t want to be judges, whether for economic or other reasons.

Dr. Guy Lurie of the Israel Democracy Institute, who conducted the new study, said the lack of suitable candidates was an excuse. He added that diversity in the judiciary has generally come only in response to public or political pressure, citing as an example the goal of increasing the number of Mizrahi judges.

Lurie argued that diversity is important to the courts’ public legitimacy.

“In Israel, as in other countries where there are societal schisms, it’s accepted that the courts’ composition must reflect the composition of the population,” he wrote in his article. “A court without representation for minorities, in any country, will not enjoy public trust, especially in a conflicted society.”

Moreover, Lurie said, the underrepresentation of Arabs in the courts is self-perpetuating, since it deters potential candidates.

The importance of having Arab judges was also reflected in a study reported by Haaretz in January. It found that when Arab defendants appealed a conviction or sentence, their appeal had only a 24 percent chance of being accepted if no Arab judges sat on the panel hearing it, but a 36 percent chance of being accepted if an Arab judge was on the panel — an increase of 50 percent.