Israeli Chief Justice Slams Officials for Not Defending Courts in the Face of Criticism

The comments came against the backdrop of efforts to pass an amendment to the Basic Law on Human Dignity to override rulings by the High Court that have invalidated legislation targeting asylum seekers

The President of the Supreme Court and President Rivlin at the President's residence in Jerusalem, October 23, 2018.
Mark Naiman

Public officials, including elected representatives, are failing to defend Israel’s judicial system in the face of criticism of the courts that borders on incitement, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said Tuesday.

“When comments are made regarding us judges that are far from to the point or disrespectful, one would expect that someone would bother to condemn them in the name of statesmanship,” the court president said.

“Unfortunately, such condemnation is late in coming,” in light of the purported inaction on the part of public officials to come to the courts’ defense, some members of the public take that as license to engage in harsh rhetoric of their own, Hayut added.

>>From political appointments to hit lists: The untold story of how Israel's Supreme Court was born

The court president was speaking against the backdrop of efforts to pass an amendment to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, a law with constitutional status, to override repeated rulings by the High Court of Justice that have invalidated legislation targeting asylum seekers in Israel.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation could approve the amendment Sunday. 

Hayut called judicial review, which empowers the court to interpret legislation and to strike down laws that it deems unconstitutional, “a central and important component of the system of checks and balances of the Israeli system of government.”

“There are those who claim that exercising judicial review cuts the judicial system off from the people,” the court president said, but she rejected the criticism and noted that the democracy index polling data published last year by the Israel Democracy Institute found that the public had a level of confidence in the judiciary exceeded only by its confidence in the army and the state president, among the country’s institutions.

Hayut also cited the increase in the number of court proceedings filed by members of the public, rising to 850,000 last year, as evidence of the public’s confidence in the court system and the connection that the courts have with the public.

Last week, the Supreme Court came in for criticism for ruling that Lara Alqasem, a Florida graduate student whose family is of Palestinian background, could not reasonably be barred from entering the country to attend a master’s program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, despite opposition from the minister for public security and for strategic affairs.

Gilad Erdan had claimed the law permitted Alqasem’s exclusion in light of evidence of her prior support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called the ruling an indication that the court was “continuing to act against democracy.”