Israeli Justice Chief: I 'Broke' the Old Conception of the Justice System

At the swearing-in ceremony for new judges, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked accuses law academics of ‘toeing the line’ of judicial activist approach pioneered by Aharon Barak

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tuesday that she had “broken” the old conception of the justice system, noting that she’d challenged the activist approach fostered by former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, and allowed new, conservative voices to be heard in the courtroom.

Shaked was speaking at a swearing-in ceremony for new judges, her last such function in the current government’s term.

“Over the last few years, as justice minister, I’ve noticed that the mainstream in the country’s court system has not allowed new gardens to flourish. Any call for a change is assailed as an attack on democracy. Any straying from the straight and narrow is suspect as fascist. Some solitary voices who dared ask questions were condemned for having an agenda, and this questioning was blocked. In Israel’s justice system there was no room for other opinions.”

>> Read more: Israel's war on democracy is here – and the justice minister's leading the charge | Analysis 

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In her term as justice minister, Shaked appointed a record 330 judges and registrars, including six Supreme Court justices. Four of these are considered conservative (David Mintz, Yosef Elron, Yael Vilner and Alex Stein), and she considers their appointment to be one of her greatest achievements. Their appointment has indeed brought to the bench a new spirit, one that rejects the automatic right of any person to appeal to the High Court of Justice, and strives to attain minimal intervention by the courts in the decisions of the government and other agencies. Shaked said the justice system is now more diversified, more representative and more balanced. “I’m proud to say that there is more room now for other opinions, which are proudly on display. I’ve reframed the conception,” she said.

She added that “the most surprising thing was the fact that those charged with voicing criticism held their silence. The academic world, which has the role of challenging and questioning, toed the line. Law schools accepted as self-evident the uprooting of the magnificent edifice built by the first generation of justices, and started to teach the newly-fashioned body of rulings. Jurists, who in normal times used to leave no stone unturned, bowed their heads and let the caravan move on.”

While Shaked did not name the new conservative judges, she took credit for appointments made by the committee she headed. Only last week, Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut came out against Shaked’s labeling and her attempts to claim credit for appointing some of these justices. “Israel’s legal system has no right-wing or left-wing judges; there are no judges who are consistently conservative and none who are consistently activist,” said Hayut at a conference last Thursday. She noted that judges are required to sever the umbilical cord between themselves and those who supported their appointment. It was also expected that the latter sever their ties from their supporters as well.

Hayut also spoke at the swearing-in ceremony, addressing claims that judges are disconnected from the public. “This is far from describing things as they are,” she argued. “First, one can’t claim that we’re locked inside our ivory towers since our actions are open to the public, other than in special cases requiring in-camera discussions. Furthermore, this claim is untrue since we’re in daily contact, direct and unmediated, with all the strata of Israeli society.”