Esther Hayut Appointed to Be Israel's Next Supreme Court President

The Judicial Appointments Committee unanimously approved Hayut as the court’s 12th president. Confidants say she will stand up to attempts by the justice minister to weaken the bench

Outgoing Supreme Court President Miriam Naor embraces her successor, Esther Hayut (right), following her selection, while ministers Ayelet Shaked and Moshe Kahlon look on, September 5, 2017.
Justice minister's office

Israel's Judicial Appointments Committee unanimously approved on Tuesday the choice of Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut as the court’s next president. Hayut will take over from retiring Justice Miriam Naor and will be the court’s 12th president, serving a six-year term before she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Hayut, who will be sworn into her new position on October 26, is considered an intelligent and effective jurist who is tough on those appearing before her.

Hayut was selected accorded to the seniority principle, which holds that the Supreme Court’s presidency be granted to the longest-serving justice when the position becomes vacant. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) had tried to cancel this procedure, but her attempts failed following opposition from a number of members of the appointments committee and due to the fact that all the other justices on the bench refused to submit their candidacy for the position.

Nurit Koren, a member of the committee and a lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, chose to boycott the meeting at which Hayut was selected as a form of protest against the seniority system.

“I’m not against Hayut," Koren told Haaretz, "but I’m not ready to be a rubber stamp – coming and conducting a debate just because they agreed ahead of time that Hayut will be the president. What’s the debate for, then?”

Journalist Naomi Levitsky, author of a book on the Supreme Court, revealed that the justice minister had refused to support Hayut’s appointment as president due to the justice’s opposition to the law that restricts reunification of Palestinian families. Levitzky quoted Shaked as saying, “The litmus test is the ruling on the family reunification law, and all of us know on which side Hayut was.”

On both of the occasions when the issue was brought up before her, Hayut sided with the minority that rejected cancellation of the law.

Newly appointed Israeli Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, in a photo from 2016.
Courtesy of the Supreme Court

Acquaintances of the incoming president say that, in contrast with her predecessor Naor – who has maintained warm and close relations with Shaked – Hayut is likely to present opposition to the minister and to take a stance against her attempts to weaken the Supreme Court.

Hayut, who currently resides in Tel Aviv, will turn 64 next month. Both her parents were Holocaust survivors, and she grew up in Herzliya. She performed her army service in the Central Command's military band. She received her law degree from Tel Aviv University in 1977 and went on to work as a lawyer, specializing in civil law. Hayut was appointed a judge in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court in 1990 and then worked her way up, moving to the Tel Aviv District Court in 1996 and beginning her tenure on the Supreme Court in 2003. She is the mother of two lawyers by training who do not work in the legal profession: Uri, who works in real estate, and Yossi, a start-up entrepreneur.