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Israel's High Court Ruling on Admitting Yeshiva Students Signals Shift on Public Petitions

Ido Baum
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The High Court of Justice in session, Jerusalem, August 2, 2018.
The High Court of Justice in session, Jerusalem, August 2, 2018.Credit: Hadas Parush
Ido Baum

Is it possible that the caseload, the attacks and the general poisonous atmosphere that politicians have created against Israel's High Court of Justice are pushing the justices – those who are not archconservatives – to close its doors to petitioners on public issues?

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Consider what Justice Yael Wilner wrote in rejecting a public petition against coronavirus point man Ronni Gamzu’s decision to admit 12,000 yeshiva students from countries that don’t have the coronavirus pandemic under control.

Even Gamzu acknowledged that “admitting 12,000 yeshiva students during the second coronavirus wave is liable to worsen the infection situation in Israel,” attorney Reuven Bilet wrote in the petition seeking to ban their entry, in the public interest.

Wilner argued the petition was filed two months after the decision, that it should have listed the students and the yeshivas accepting them, that Bilet didn’t seriously approach the decision-makers and in any event should have gone first to the administrative court. Her list of rejections dwelled on a disturbing and unexpected reason – the right of standing.

Wilner ruled against Bilet’s right to petition. “It’s already been ruled that despite expanding the right of standing, the principle remains that the court usually won’t accept a public petition that involves a person or body that is not directly hurt by the petition, and is prevented from seeking help from the court despite the damage to their right or interests,” she wrote.

Bilet petitioned in the name of the Israeli public to prevent the entry of people from high-risk countries, which he asserts receive preferential treatment over foreigners who cannot visit their relatives in Israel. The judge ruled that because he doesn’t represent any such people he is fighting a fight that isn’t his.

Wilner’s ruling is based on the view that “when a person impacted by governmental action doesn’t petition against it, there is no real need for legal involvement.” Justices Yitzhak Amit and Menachem Mazuz agreed fully with the ruling.

It’s a problematic result because the court has not rejected such principled petitions in the name of the public interest until now. Moreover, the petitioner didn’t seek to allow the entry of foreigners he didn’t represent, but rather to prevent those entering from dangerous countries in the name of the interest of Israeli citizens, and he is one of them.

Even if he isn’t affected directly, the court’s demand that the directly affected parties file the petition is illogical.

An ultra-Orthodox man is stopped by police in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, March 30, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Yeshiva students enjoyed the intervention of the Haredi parties, and only Haredi parties have the political power to bring in 12,000 students during the coronavirus pandemic.

Foreigners with Israeli relatives, who lack political backing, gave up on entering Israel; individuals can’t fight the state. Thus, foreign students who planned to study in Israel this year can’t get into Israel not only because of limited flights but because they can’t get entry visas from consulates that are closed worldwide.

From every angle, the High Court’s reasoning is an unhealthy signal regarding the court’s willingness to open its doors to public petitioners.

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