In Surprise Announcement, Israel's Supreme Court Justice Says Will Step Down

The resignation, which the liberal justice says is for personal reasons, will give Justice Minister Shaked another opportunity to try to appoint a more conservative replacement.

Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger in 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger issued a surprise announcement on Tuesday that he will be stepping down in February of next year, for personal reasons. The new vacancy provides Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked with another opportunity to seek the appointment of a more conservative justice to replace the liberal-leaning Danziger following the appointment about two weeks ago of four new justices by the judicial selection committee. (See analysis, Page 4.)

Danziger informed Shaked and Supreme Court President Miriam Naor of his decision and issued a statement in which he wrote: “Over the past nine and a half years, I have had the privilege of working alongside dear colleagues, dealing with an endless number of fascinating and challenging legal matters and devoting my full energies and abilities to my judicial work.
 
“My decision to conclude my term is the result of personal reasons and does not relate to reasons stemming from my judicial work,” he added.

Danziger could have remained on the bench until November 2023, and his early retirement follows the announced resignation of Justice Zvi Zylbertal, who will be stepping down from the bench next month, and who could have remained until 2022. Danziger’s resignation is particularly significant because it now gives Shaked the opportunity to attempt to push through the appointment of two new justices to take office next year – Danziger’s replacement and a replacement for Justice Uri Shoham, who will be retiring in August 2018.

About two weeks ago, the judicial selection committee, which is composed of representatives from the Supreme Court, the Israel Bar Association, the cabinet and the Knesset, came to agreement on the appointment of four new justices including three — Yosef Elron, David Mintz and Yael Willner — who are seen as conservative.

Danziger, who specialized as a lawyer in commercial and civil law, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2007 and was known for his liberal rulings, which at times went against the mainstream, and which were notable for his consideration of the rights of criminal defendants. His stance came to the fore in a dissenting opinion that he wrote in which he sought to acquit Roman Zadorov, who had been convicted of the 2006 murder in the Golan Heights community of Katzrin of middle school student Tair Rada at her school.

In the face of evidence of details of the case that had not been made public and that Zadorov had known about, supporting his conviction, Danziger said there were contrary details that should have been considered as undermining Zadorov’s earlier confession to the murder.

Danziger also sought to require changes to a law that permits the filing of civil complaints against anyone calling for the boycott of West Bank settlements or settlers. The law, he said, inflicts “real damage to freedom of expression,” and should have applied only to calls for boycotts of institutions or regions within Israel’s sovereign territory and not in the West Bank.

Danziger also took exception in another case, in connection with a ruling by then-Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch allowing a police officer to search the body of a citizen without probable cause or a court order if the citizen consents to the search. Danziger went further, however, saying that such a search should never be allowed because there was no such thing as a genuine consent under such circumstances.

Danziger was also in the minority in the case of Lebanese militia operative Mustafa Dirani, who was involved in the abduction of Israeli flight navigator Ron Arad. Danziger said Dirani should have been allowed to file suit in Israel for physical injuries he claimed he sustained in his interrogation by Israel’s Shin Bet security service.

Danziger took issue with the state’s position that Dirani should not be allowed to sue, saying even if he is an enemy of the state, as claimed, he should have been allowed to sue on the basis of claims that his interrogators raped and humiliated him. Israeli courts should be open to everyone, he wrote.

Voting in favor of petitions challenging provisions of the infiltration law pertaining to illegal migrants, many of whom have settled in south Tel Aviv neighborhoods, Danziger wrote that the response to the neighborhood residents cannot be incarcerating the migrants in detention camps for an unlimited period.