High Court Justices Back Naor for Skipping 'Controversial' Settlement Jubilee Ceremony

Ministers blast top court for skipping event ■ Chief justice says judge's attendance is 'inappropriate' due to political nature of event ■ Justice minister: Court politicized the event ■ Defense minister questions court's impartiality on West Bank

Supreme Court President Miriam Naor
Ilya Melnikov

The High Court of Justice ruled in support of its own president, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, on Wednesday in her controversial decision not to send a representative of the judicial branch to the official government ceremony marking 50 years to Israel's conquest of the West Bank. The High Court rejected a petition by the right-wing Regavim nonprofit organization to reverse Naor’s decision, or cancel the ceremony.

The decision was intended to protect the status of the judicial branch, wrote Supreme Court justice Uri Shoham in the ruling. “The decision not to take part  in the controversial event, and which could be interpreted as having a political nature, is also necessary to protect the independent status on the judicial branch and to preserve the public’s faith in the legal system,” wrote Shoham. He added that this is necessary to preserve the democratic nature of Israel. 

The Supreme Court came under heavy political fire on Wednesday after the court's president Miriam Naor decided the judicial branch would skip the controversial ceremony, saying it has become too politically controversial.

Cabinet ministers criticized Naor's decicion, claiming it proves the court is biased against the settlers and  settlement enterprise.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks at an event. Lieberman said that Israel's Supreme Court's decision not to attend an event in the settlements called into question its ability to rule imperially on issues related to the settlements.
Olivier Fitoussi

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Defending her decision on Wednesday, Naor wrote: "The court system avoids participating in any controversial public event, in particular when the entire stage is dedicated to one side."

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked blasted Naor in a letter she sent to her and to  the Israeli media.

"I was saddened to hear about Naor's refusal to send a representative from the court to the ceremony," Shaked wrote, accusing Naor of "unraveling the official nature of an event decided on by the government and created the semblance of a political event."

File photo: Supreme Court President Miriam Naor (L) attends a Knesset committee meeting flanked by Habayit Hayehudi MK Nissan Slomiansky and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of Habayit Hayehudi.
Emil Salman

"Though your intention was to prevent political controversy, it is clear that goal wasn't achieved," Shaked wrote.

Naor had decided on Tuesday that it was "inappropriate for a representative of the judicial branch to participate in the event,” scheduled to be held in the Gush Etzion bloc, one of her advisers said in a letter. The official representative was to have been Supreme Court justice Neal Hendel.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the decision calls into question the top court's ability to rule impartially on issues pertaining to the West Bank, while other ministers suggested the court's judges would no longer be invited to official events.

"I was sad to hear about the chief justice's choice to boycott the event," Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page after the court's senior justice defended her decision not to send a representative to the jubilee, which she deemed "controversial" and too partisan.

"The decision surprised me, as judges have traditionally attended such events, like the celebrations in honor of the liberation of Jerusalem, when Judea and Samaria were also liberated," Lieberman said, referencing Israel's 1967 Six Day War and using the Biblical name for the West Bank.

"It also surprises me as the event is being held in Gush Etzion, [a settlement bloc] considered part of the Israeli consensus," he said.

"The decision by president Naor raises questions, and casts a heavy shadow regarding the court's ability to deal in an impartial manner with issues related to the West Bank, when the court itself says these are political [issues]."

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev told the pro-government Israel Hayom newspaper that she was considering dropping the top court's judges from the list of officials invited to official events, which is usually the responsibility of the Israel Information Center in her ministry.

"Without getting into issues of [the judicial branch's independence from the executive branch], this decision harms the state of Israel as it is a boycott," Regev was quoted as saying.  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers will participate in the official event named, “50 years of settlement in Judea and Samaria.” Representatives of all branches of the government were invited, as is customary for official government ceremonies.

Before the Supreme Court’s announcement, Haaretz reported that the new Public Broadcasting Corporation and Army Radio both refused to air the government ad promoting the ceremony. The two media outlets said the slogan used in the ad, “We have returned home”, was controversial. They were also seeking clarification why the Palestinian city of Jericho was mentioned in the ads.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said in response that from now on judges should not to be invited to official government events.

“For anyone who had a doubt, it was made clear today once again that Supreme Court justices bring into the courtroom a left-wing personal political agenda, something that is expressed in their rulings that repeatedly harm settlers and the settlement enterprise,” said Levin.

The head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, Shlomo Ne’eman, called on Naor to reverse her decision, and accused both her and the Supreme Court of pushing what he said was an ideological agenda against the settlements.

“The justices must decide whether they will be a part of the historic return of the Jewish people to its land, or part of the hysteria of the left fearful of its having lost power,” he said.

In Israel where a right-wing nationalistic government has ruled since 2009, the Supreme Court has come under ongoing attack by government officials critical of what they perceive as a liberal bias. Advocates of the Supreme Court commend it meanwhile, for helping uphold the rule of law and principles of equality and human rights.