Outgoing Israeli Chief Justice Bids Farewell: 'If We Do Not Defend Democracy, Democracy Will Not Defend Us'

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Supreme Court President Miriam Naor at her farewell ceremony, October 26, 2017.
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor at her farewell ceremony, October 26, 2017.Credit: Oren Ben Hakun

Miriam Naor retired from Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday after 37 years on the bench, which culminated in a three-year term as the court's president. In her farewell speech, Naor spoke about the attacks on the court and cautioned that judicial independence cannot be taken for granted, and must be preserved. “If we do not defend democracy, democracy will not defend us,” she said.

“I have been president of the Supreme Court for the last three years. It has not been an easy time,” Naor said. “During that time, things were said against the court, including crass expressions that I will not repeat. Material criticism is legitimate and important, but things said in recent years, not rarely without reading the ruling in whole or in part, deviated from the boundaries of legitimate criticism.”

She thanked Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, saying, “We had some tough differences of opinion but most were resolved with pragmatic solutions – through meetings in my chambers, in conversation or through texting. Along with our differences of opinion we developed a relationship of friendship and love, despite the age gap and despite the differences of view in various professional aspects. Our personal relations were not frayed by the conflicts of opinion, and I ascribe great importance to distinguishing between professional disputes and personal relations.”

During the ceremony, Shaked also spoke of her friendship with Naor. “It is no secret that we had a lot of disagreements, but we always rose above them and managed them in a good, distinguished way,” the minister said. “When I say good, I mean good for the people of Israel and the State of Israel. That was the starting point.”

On Naor’s rulings, Shaked said that the president avoided labeling, instead approaching each case individually, with an open mind, and “turning over every rock and clearing away all the snakes’ eggs beneath it.”

Shaked said that she agreed with some of Naor’s rulings and disagreed with others, but always knew that her motives were pure and that the legal result would most correct one, as Naor saw it.

Shaked also applauded Naor’s decision to uphold the law banning family reunification for Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens who wished to live in Israel: “You clarified, between the lines, that you aren’t from the UN,” Shaked said, noting that Naor brought up the demographic consideration even though the state hadn’t. “You asked, how can the interior minister be the gatekeeper when every citizen has the keys to the gate in hand? You presented data on the number of terrorist attacks carried out in this way and stressed that the sanctity of life for Israeli citizens must be given its proper place.”

Justice Esther Hayut, who is succeeding Naor as the Supreme Court president, said in her speech that in recent years the court and Naor herself had been under attack, but Naor chose to respond with restraint, “biting her tongue.”

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit applauded Naor’s devotion and sense of mission, adding that in every case she handled, she sought to achieve justice, preserve human rights and defend democracy and the rule of law.

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