In Veiled Criticism at Justice Ministry, Rivlin Says Judges’ Work Is Not a ’Listener Request Show’

Speaking at their swearing-in ceremony, president urged 18 new judges to respect democratic institutions; Supreme Court President Miriam Naor said only undemocratic regimes lack checks and balances.

(From left) Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and President Reuven Rivlin at the judges' swearing-in ceremony, Apr. 13, 2016, in Jerusalem. In the picture, Shaked is turned toward Naor as if to speak to her privately, while Rivlin looks straight into the camera.
Olivier Fitoussi

Judges cannot be cast as if for a television series, “out of the thought that the work of judging is a ‘listener request show,’” President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday at the swearing-in ceremony for 18 new judges at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Rivlin’s remarks seemed to be an implicit reference to statements by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in which she said she intended to endeavor to appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

“The work of judging is art and skill conducted through deliberation and give and take in interpreting the law, by examining the positions of all parties and weighing all the considerations,” Rivlin told the new judges.

“This was true for the matter of the [natural] gas framework too. At the end of the day, a decision was made in this manner by the Supreme Court. The court must always decide between conflicting positions. Is it conceivable to respect the court’s ruling only when it matches our position? We must be careful to respect our democratic institutions, all of them, and strengthen their independence, otherwise ‘each man would eat his neighbor alive.’”

Supreme Court President Miriam Naor also touched on criticism of the High Court, and in particular Shaked’s attacks on it ruling on the gas framework.

“Recently the term governability has returned to our lives and has become fashionable,” Naor said at the ceremony. “Governability is the government’s ability to govern within the framework of its authority and according to the legal rules for invoking that authority. Governability is not a license to violate the law,” she said.

The role of the court is to assist in the separation of powers by making it clear what the cabinet is allowed to do, Naor said, and when legislation by the Knesset is required - as the High Court of Justice ruled in the gas framework case.

“When the court does so it is not limiting governability, but only acting as the ‘traffic police of democracy.’ It seems to me that no one claims that in the name of governability the government in a democratic regime can do anything it likes. Only regimes that are not democratic have no checks and balances on the government’s ability to act,” Naor said.

In her own remarks at the ceremony, Shaked addressed the prosecutors’ strike, which ended Tuesday night. “I am pleased to tell you that after days of long discussions we have succeeded in bringing about the end of the prosecutors’ strike, so you can work. No system is immune to criticism, not the court, not the prosecution, as long as the criticism is germane and not personal.”