Israel's Supreme Court President Snipes at Justice Minister Shaked Over Attempts to Politicize Judiciary

'The are no right-wing or left-wing judges,' Esther Hayut said, calling on politicians to let judges 'perform their duty impartially' ■ Attorney general called out Likud MK for 'harming public trust' in decisions over Netanyahu's corruption cases

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at a legal convention in Haifa, January 3, 2018.
Eran Gilwarg

Israel's Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on Thursday criticized "the attempts to drag the court system and its judges to the political field."

Hinting at Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's policies and public statements, Hayut in a speech at a convention of the Israeli Association of Public Law in Haifa warned against "attempts ... to appropriate this judge or the other."

These attempts, according to Hayut, "undermine the basic principles of independence and autonomy," which are at the core of Israel's judiciary. Furthermore, she said, they were "destined to fail."

"The are no right-wing or left-wing judges in Israel's judiciary; no conservative judges in every matter and no activist judges in every matter," court president said.

>> Israel's war on democracy is here – and the justice minister's leading the charge | Analysis ■ Netanyahu's putsch against the rule of law is inspired by Trump, Bolsonaro and other authoritarian allies | Analysis

Hayut added judges are demanded to "cut the umbilical cord" that binds them with those who supported their candidacy, and so "it may be expected that the same supporters cut the cord on their end and allow the court system and Israel's judges to perform their duty professionally and impartially."

"Some try to boast about the appointment of this judge or the other and of shifting the court ship's helm," Hayut said, referring to statements made by Shaked, who regularly takes pride in the change she claims to have brought about in the Israeli judiciary and particularly in securing the appointment of Justice Alex Stein. Shaked has said many times she succeeded in appointing "conservative" judges.

Hayut also said a moderate, responsible legal approach must not be confused with "conservatism at all costs." The latter, Hayut explained, "contradicts the essence of the legal world, which never stands still and is inherently dynamic, calling for constant change and evolution."

Minister Shaked slammed the legal community for its "silence" over criticism of conservative rulings and justices. She said it seemed the court's independence only mattered "as long as the legal result echoes a very specific" set of values.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who also spoke at the convention, referred in his speech to "baseless claims of supposedly biased conduct by law enforcement authorities."

He mentioned Likud MK David Amsalem who said that "millions of people won't accept" criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Such sayings wish to harm the public's trust in our decisions," Mendelblit said. "Not only do they have nothing to do with the truth, they are also irresponsible."

Referring to a pending decision in Netanyahu's corruption cases, Mendelblit added State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and him "are aware of the heavy responsibbility we have been trusted with. Our duty is to get to the bottom of the truth and make just, right decision in the investigation cases that now preoccupy us all."

In a break from his usual custom, Mendelblit spoke about his father following the vandalism of his grave and shared an insight from his words: “Above all things there is something bigger than us that we are all part of and we are all commanded to protect.”

He added: “I beseech everyone, all those who are in this country, regardless of the arguments, our sages said: wise men, choose your words carefully.”