In Last Ruling, Outgoing Supreme Court Judge Favors Foreign Workers

Justice Edna Arbel rules that long-standing foreign workers engaged in nursing care are entitled to same social benefits as Israelis.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel.
Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel.Credit: Emil Salman
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

In her last decision before retiring from the Supreme Court Sunday, Justice Edna Arbel ruled that foreign workers engaged in nursing care who have been in Israel more than 10 years should be given the same social benefits and health insurance rights that Israelis are entitled to.

Arbel, who is stepping down from the court because she has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, wrote the main part of the ruling, which was supported by Justices Daphne Barak-Erez and Uzi Vogelman. The panel thus accepted, in part, a petition filed by Kav La’Oved – the Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights, and called on the health and social services ministers to implement the ruling.

“I don’t think one can benefit from the good service of foreign workers and from the benefits their services provide the Israeli economy and its citizens without accepting the burden of the rights these workers are entitled to,” Arbel wrote. “One cannot relate to foreign workers as merely useful means, which is not consistent with the value of human dignity.”

On a different petition filed by Kav La’Oved, Arbel was in the minority on a panel that ruled 5-4 against applying the Work and Rest Hours Law to foreign workers, which would mean they would have to be paid for overtime.

During a farewell ceremony held Sunday, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis mentioned the first ruling as he paid warm tribute to her, describing Arbel as a judge whose “leitmotif of all her work, and her rulings in this court in particular, is sensitivity and the ability to see the other person.” He specifically mentioned her recognition of victims’ rights before it was widely accepted or anchored in legislation.

“Arbel understood the importance of giving the victim a voice in criminal procedures,” he said. He mentioned her tough approach to sexual offenses, and also added, “Her warm personality and pleasant disposition will be missing in the human landscape of the Supreme Court.”

The ceremony was attended by the country’s leading jurists, among them former Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar, as well as cultural figures like poet Haim Gouri and author Zeruya Shalev, who are friends of Arbel.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni described Arbel as “the terror of politicians.” State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, whom Arbel had made her deputy for special projects when she was state prosecutor, repeated Barak’s description of her as “a judge with a soul.”

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein thanked Arbel and described her as a judge “with an understanding of the complex reality of life, while defending the weak and stubbornly preserving human rights, dignity and freedom.”

He specifically mentioned her ruling against the earlier version of the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which the court struck down, even though it had contravened his position. “But that’s exactly why I’m mentioning it,” he said. “The values that you upheld, the values of human dignity and preserving human freedom, are values that we all share and work to defend and actualize.”

Arbel gave an emotional address, revealing a little about the process of arriving at legal decisions. “Not infrequently, the decision is made in agony,” she admitted. “In quite a few cases I had to grapple with existential questions touching on the root of the human experience, and to make decisions that could change fates and the course of people’s lives. Coming to a decision is an inner journey that every judge makes with himself. He stands alone, with his conscience, his experience and the values on which he was raised, conscious of the responsibility he assumes with his decision.”

Arbel decried the increasing violence and corruption spreading through Israeli society, noting, “The court has an important role in reducing violence. Nevertheless, the court enters the picture after the knife has already been drawn. An effective battle against violence … places a central role on the educational and welfare systems.”

Battling corruption, Arbel added, requires “professional, responsible and determined enforcement. It requires a court that speaks loudly and clearly. This is a war over the image of Israel as a state of law, striving to bolster its foundation as a democratic state. We cannot let up.”

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