Judge in Line to Be First Muslim Picked as Permanent Justice on Israel's Supreme Court

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Judge Khaled Khabub in 2014
Judge Khaled Khabub in 2014Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Roughly 21 percent of Israel’s population are Arab Muslims, but since Israel’s establishment, no Muslim has ever received a permanent appointment as a justice on the Supreme Court. Although there have been Arab Christians on the court, including current Justice George Karra, the only Muslim to serve on the high court was Abdel Rahman Zoabi. But his 1999 appointment was for a temporary term of less than a year.

The situation may change shortly if Tel Aviv District Court Judge Khaled Kabub, the court’s deputy president and head of its economic division, is nominated to the Supreme Court. He is considered a leading candidate for the position.

The Judicial Appointments Committee is at work on a list of candidates for the Supreme Court. It will be convening at the end of November to select replacements for Justices Menachem Mazuz and Hanan Melcer, who resigned, and Justices Karra and Neal Handel, who will be retiring next year. Kabub may be appointed to the “slot” currently filled by Karra, who is the court’s only Arab justice.

There has been an Arab “seat” on the Supreme Court since 2003, with the appointment of Arab Christian Justice Salim Joubran. The appointment was an effort by the Judicial Appointments Committee to better reflect the diversity of Israeli society on the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

In the last round of appointments in 2017, Kabub was considered a leading candidate for the high court, but Karra, who is seven years older, got the nod thanks to support from the three Supreme Court justices on the committee and the four politicians. In addition to Supreme Court Justices, the panel includes representatives from the Israel Bar Association, the justice minister, another cabinet minister and two Knesset members.

When it became clear in the last round that he would not be appointed, Kabub withdrew his candidacy and sent an angry letter to the committee accusing it of not being “prepared for the appointment of an additional Arab justice to the Supreme Court.”

Kabub was so disappointed at the time that he spoke about resigning as a judge entirely, sources told Haaretz. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, a member of the committee, implored him not to resign and promised he would be selected following Karra’s retirement, the sources said. Kabub is expected to get support from the two Israel Bar Association representatives and, it is thought, also from the other committee members, because there is no other leading Arab candidate for the position.

Kabub’s appointment is not assured, however. Another source on the committee acknowledged that his prospects are very good but added that at this stage, nothing has been settled regarding candidates for the Supreme Court.

A lawyer who has frequently appeared before Kabub at the district court called him hard working and “very experienced on very complicated issues.” She said he set new enforcement standards on corporate securities and corporate law and is pleasant to appear before.

Kabub was born in 1958 and grew up in Jaffa. His father was a bus driver and his mother a homemaker. He has six children, five of whom are lawyers. The sixth also graduated from law school.

Kabub himself initially studied history and Islam at Tel Aviv University but later went to law school there, graduating in 1988. He later got a graduate degree in commercial law.

Between 1989 and 1997, he was in private practice. It was after he appeared before the Supreme Court that the court president at the time, Aharon Barak, suggested that he submit his candidacy as a judge. He was appointed a magistrate’s court judge in Netanya 24 years ago and was promoted to the Tel Aviv District Court six years later.

In 2010, the Knesset decided to create an economic affairs division of the Tel Aviv District Court, to be presided over by judges with particular expertise in the field, and Kabub was appointed to the division. Some lawyers who have appeared before him said that since then, he has become more establishment-oriented and tougher on sentencing.

The most prominent case he has handled in his current position was the 2016 stock manipulation case against Nochi Dankner, the controlling shareholder at the time of the major corporate conglomerate IDB. Kabub sentenced Dankner to two years in prison following his conviction. When the sentence was appealed, the Supreme Court increased it to three years, but Dankner was freed after 16 months due to health problems.

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