Israeli Chief Justice Rebuffs Ministers' 'Unprecedented' Attack on Law Enforcement

Esther Hayut acknowledges that none are immune to criticism, but stresses that 'Politicization of the justice system could completely undermine its foundations as an objective and independent system'

Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut at an event in Nazareth, October 30, 2019.
Gil Eliyahu

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut responded Wednesday to the harsh criticism leveled against the judicial system by senior Likud party figures – including by Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

"These days, which are unprecedented in the history of our government, oblige us all to stand firm and labor fearlessly, responsibly and with discretion,” Hayut said.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana said on Tuesday, regarding the court cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that there was a “prosecution within the prosecution” that is destroying political and public careers.

At a ceremony to mark the beginning of the judicial year in Nazareth, Hayut said she speaks as "someone entrusted with the rule of law, with safeguarding it and reinforcing its position." She added that “Politicization of the justice system could completely undermine its foundations as an objective and independent system and hurt the confidence that the public placed in the judicial authority.”

Hayut acknowledged that none are immune to criticism, and that improvements can always be made. “That is an inseparable part of an essential, open, living and breathing democracy," she said. "But we must beware of remarks expected to be legitimate criticism that in fact bring about a process that conceals the delegitimization of institutions and of loyal public servants, without whom we would all have difficulty maintaining the rule of law."

On Tuesday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan also responded to Ohana’s remarks, saying that they “reject the attempt to cast aspersions on the work of anyone in the police or the prosecution without any factual basis,” adding that “no one will deter us from faithfully carrying out our duties. No one will turn us away from the right path.”

On Wednesday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan claimed that the justice system is not doing its part in the fight against illegal weapons. "There are authorities that need to take responsibility along with us… I first and foremost am talking about judges and the court system," he said. Erdan added that in the last four years, only 50 percent of those convicted of owning illegal weapons have been detained, and those who were faced less than a year behind bars.  "When the punishment on the books is five years, seven years, arms dealers get 15 years, then it's no surprise" when there is no deterrence.

Hayut addressed these claims in her speech: "Recently, we have heard grievances from different elements that lighter sentences for weapon crimes are allegedly a factor in the spread of this phenomenon. The same elements even accompany their words with statistics taken from, according to those making the claims, police reports." She said that a sampling from the court's research department of 119 accused in 95 criminal cases, relating to the illegal ownership and transport of weapons, that were closed between January 2018 and October 2019, "shows that the statistics that were presented from the police reports are far from accurate."  

Erdan also censured the police Tuesday. He called on law enforcement officials to explain their reasoning in launching an investigation into two Likud officials suspected of harassing state's witness Shlomo Filber. Filber, who was director general of the Communications Ministry under Netanyahu, is testifying in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for taking steps that benefited Bezeq telecommunications shareholder Shaul Elovitch in return for favorable coverage on Bezeq’s Walla news site.

Erdan said that the car placed outside Filber's home, from which people with loudspeakers hurled insults at Filber, amounted to a "minor protest" and that it is "doubtful that it would have been investigated under different circumstances."