Justice Minister Says Israeli Courts Have Assumed Too Much Power

Ayelet Shaked rebukes fellow party member for harsh criticism of judge, saying no one is immune to criticism, but there is a way to pass it.

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Ayelet Shaked, Israel's freshly appointed justice minister, pictured in 2014.
Ayelet Shaked, Israel's freshly appointed justice minister, pictured in 2014.Credit: Michal Fattal

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) said on Wednesday that she believes the courts in Israel have arrogated to themselves powers beyond those intended by the legislature.

“I feel that, following the constitutional revolution, the courts have assigned themselves powers not congruent with legislation,” Shaked said during a debate in the Knesset. Her statement followed criticism of Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman, who recently put a temporary hold on the demolition of houses belonging to terrorists.

“The government and MKs are not immune to criticism,” Shaked said. “We must maintain appropriate limits on what we say and weigh our words carefully, ensuring a constructive dialogue which is respectful and fruitful.”

In a Facebook post last week, MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) referred to Vogelman’s temporary injunction, saying “the justice is defending the rights of murderers, thus preventing a deterrent punishment and endangering life.” Yogev called on Vogelman to hang up his robes and join the Joint List Knesset faction, saying that the justice’s positions conform with those of the mainly Arab party.

A group of 55 senior current and former public officials sent a letter to Shaked, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett two days ago, demanding that they speak out in support of Vogelman and rebuke Yogev. The letter was signed, among others, by former State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, former head of the economic crimes division in the State Prosecutor’s Office attorney Avia Alefa and former Israeli consul to Boston Nadav Tamir, all alumni of the Wexner Foundation program for strengthening Israel’s public leadership.

“The harsh words directed at Justice Vogelman constitute a threat to the standing of the courts, whose independence is one of the foundations of Israel’s democracy – such words are unacceptable in a democratic society,” they wrote. “These calls from an elected official are equivalent to making this judge a target for assailants.

“Our community includes graduates from the entire political spectrum in Israel, right and left, religious and secular – but we all share a deep concern for the independent status of the judiciary, as well as for the safety and security of our judges. In this spirit we appeal to you to speak out clearly against the evil and dangerous spirit that rises from MK Yogev’s words, and to support Israel’s democratic nature,” the letter said.

Netanyahu and Bennet condemned Yogev’s statements, “The judiciary is not one of our enemies,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday at a Knesset ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

Bennett indirectly criticized Yogev at a convention of youth movements in Tel Aviv, saying that “criticizing the judiciary is legitimate but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

On Wednesday, Shaked admonished her fellow party member. "In Israel's vibrant democratic system, no one is immune from criticism and if there is a body that – God forbid – has not been criticized, we implore criticism of it. Therefore, not the government, not the Knesset, and not the Supreme Court are immune to criticism," Shaked said. The justice minister emphasized that "there is a way to express this criticism. In particular, we, publicly-elected officials whose words are amplified to the greatest strengths, must weigh our words carefully. We, as Knesset members, are obliged to ensure our conversations are fruitful, strengthening and respectful."

Former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon told Haaretz that he signed the letter ouit of concern about attacks directed at the court and against Vogelman in particular.

“We need to understand that there are limits on what is permissible to say,” Ayalon said. “The Justice Minister can’t fulfill her role if she doesn’t understand this and come out clearly against it, even when her political interests conflict with such action.”

At a meeting marking the opening of this year’s court term in Haifa, Supreme Court Justices Yoram Danziger and Salim Joubran also criticized Yogev. “Criticism has to be to the point,” Danziger said. “I think that expressions such as ‘the judge sided with the enemy’ or, on a previous occasion, ‘judges provide terrorists with a tail wind’ are in bad taste but also reflect populist inflammatory remarks that are patently inappropriate.”

Joubran added that “the judicial system, particularly the Supreme Court, is going through a rough period this last month, and this attack is unjustified. Justice Vogelman did what any other judge would have done in this case.” The head of the Israel Bar Association, attorney Efi Naveh, supported these remarks, adding that the association stands as a fortified wall alongside the judiciary. “We won’t allow attacks on judges or the judicial system,” he said.

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