Israeli Supreme Court Loses Most Liberal Justice to Early Retirement for 'Personal Reasons'

Justice Yoram Danziger leaves the bench five years before the mandatory retirement age with no pomp or ceremony

Justice Yoram Danziger on the bench in 2014.
Olivier Fitoussi

Without any festive ceremonies or emotional speeches, Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger left the bench on Wednesday after 10 years on Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Danziger announced a year ago that he would retire at 65, five years before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 for Israeli judges. In conversations with friends, Danziger said he believed he had achieved what he had wanted as a judge. At the time he cited “personal reasons” for his decision, and said it is unrelated to his judicial work.

The former justice will be keeping himself busy: He was given a position as a law professor at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday and will begin teaching there next week. Over the next three months he will have to finish writing his last decisions in the cases he has not yet finished. This includes a constitutional challenge against the law allowing the removal of a sitting member of the Knesset for incitement to racism and support for an armed fight against the State of Israel. According to the new law, removing a lawmaker in such cases requires a three-quarters majority of 90 votes.

Danziger, who as a private attorney specialized in commercial and civil law, was appointed to the High Court in 2007. He was known for his liberal rulings, which at times went against the mainstream, and which were notable for his consideration of human rights, freedom of expression and the rights of criminal defendants. His stance came to the fore in a dissenting opinion on the case of Roman Zadorov, who was convicted for murdering middle school student Tair Rada at her school in the Golan Heights community of Katzrin in 2006. Danziger sought an acquittal, saying Zadarov’s guilt was not beyond reasonable doubt.

He was only the second private-sector lawyer appointed directly to the High Court, after Justice Hanan Melcer. Since the two were appointed over a decade ago, no others have been chosen in this manner. Danziger was also the court’s corporate law expert.

In 2011, Danziger became entangled in a criminal investigation of former Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani. Danziger had provided Lahiani with free personal legal services before being appointed a judge. In return he allegedly received other work from the city, worth over 800,000 shekels (around $220,000).

Danziger was initially questioned as a witness in the fraud and bribery probe against Lahiani, but was later questioned as a suspect. After Danziger was interrogated by the economic crime squad, the head of the police investigations department, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, reviewed the case and determined that it should be closed. The investigative team reportedly believed that the reason for the closure was attributed not to lack of culpability, but rather to a lack of evidence. However, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein disagreed and closed the case on the grounds that Danziger had not committed a crime.

Another one of Danziger’s notable decisions came in October 2017, when he ruled that the demonstrations near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit could continue without a police permit. Last June, he overruled a decision by the Givat Shmuel municipality to remove controversial billboards meant to encourage a public debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his ruling, he criticized the government and its attempts to limit free speech.

Danziger attempted to change a law that permits civil complaints to be filed against anyone calling for the boycott of West Bank settlements or settlers. He said that the law inflicts real damage to freedom of expression and should apply only to calls to boycott institutions or regions within Israel’s sovereign territory – not in the West Bank.

Danziger also took exception to a ruling by then-Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, which allowed police officers to conduct body searches of citizens without probable cause or a court order if they consented to the search. Danziger said that a body search should never be allowed because under such circumstances, there was no such thing as a genuine consent.

The justice was in the minority in the case of the Lebanese Amal militia operative Mustafa Dirani, who was involved in the abduction of Israeli pilot Ron Arad. Danziger said Dirani should have been allowed to file a suit in Israel for the physical injuries he claimed he sustained during his interrogation by the Shin Bet security service.

Danziger took issue with the state’s position, saying that even if Dirani was 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 African asylum seekers, many of whom have settled in south Tel Aviv, Danziger wrote that the migrants cannot be incarcerated in detention camps for an unlimited period in response to complaints from the neighborhood residents.