Israel's Judicial Appointments Committee appointed Monday four new Supreme Court justices, including a first Muslim justice.
The four new justices are Tel Aviv District Court Judge Ruth Ronnen, Tel Aviv District Court Deputy President Chaled Kabub, Jerusalem District Court Deputy President Gila Canfy Steinitz and attorney Yechiel Kasher. The first two are considered liberals, Canfy Steinitz is viewed as a moderate conservative and Kasher as a centrist who leans slightly conservative.
Canfy Steinitz was Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s preferred candidate, while Ronnen was pushed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Kasher by the two Israel Bar Association representatives on the committee. The association insisted that one of the four new justices be a lawyer from a private practice.
Kabub was slated to fill the slot reserved for an Arab justice. He is now the first Muslim Arab to receive a permanent appointment to the court. (Previous Arab justices have been Christians).
Two of the new appointees will immediately replace Justices Menachem Mazuz and Hanan Melcer, who recently retired. The other two will replace Justices Neal Hendel and George Karra when they retire later this year. All four of the retirees are identified with the court’s liberal wing.
The conservative camp was previously comprised of just four or five of the court’s 15 justices – Noam Sohlberg, David Mintz, Alex Stein, Yosef Elron and sometimes Yael Willner. Rightists’ hopes that the appointments committee would select enough conservatives to give the conservative wing an assured majority were dashed.
By law, a new justice must be approved by at least seven of the appointments committee’s nine members. Kabub, Canfy Steinitz and Kasher were all expected to get the votes of seven or eight members – those of Sa’ar, Hayut, the two other justices on the panel, both Bar Association representatives, Knesset Member Efrat Rayten (Labor) and probably Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked as well.
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Ronnen, the most liberal of the four, was expected to get support from only the first seven; Shaked and MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) will almost certainly oppose her. Rothman is expected to vote against the other three as well.
“Thirty candidates were submitted for the committee’s consideration in recent weeks in two rounds, and a third of them meet the definition of a conservative,” Rothman said. “Not one of them is on the list of leading candidates, and therefore, I will oppose the entire deal.”
The appointment process has dragged on for months, repeatedly being delayed by disagreements among the committee members. For instance, Hayut tried to push the candidacy of the Courts Administration’s director, Judge Yigal Mersel, but the right-wingers on the panel were adamantly opposed.
The bar association originally supported a different lawyer in private practice, Natan Simchony, but Rayten scuttled his appointment. Rothman and Shaked wanted to appoint Jerusalem District Court Judge Ram Winograd, a conservative, but Sa’ar preferred Canfy-Steinitz.
Due to the repeated delays, Sa’ar appointed Judge Shaul Shohat as a temporary Supreme Court justice in December in an effort to reduce the court’s backlog. Shohat will serve a six-month term on the Supreme Court and then return to the Tel Aviv District Court.
Kabub, 63, began his judicial career on the Netanya Magistrate’s Court 24 years ago, and was promoted to the Tel Aviv District Court six years later. His most significant ruling was Nochi Dankner’s 2016 conviction for manipulating the shares of IDB Holdings, the conglomerate Dankner controlled at the time. Kabub has overseen almost all major economic and criminal cases in the country.
Ronnen, 60, who is considered a brilliant judge, clerked for former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar and was appointed as a magistrate’s court judge in 1995. She was promoted to the district court a decade later.
Canfy Steinitz, 63, is a moderate conservative. She has served as a judge since 1993, spending 13 years in the magistrate's court and 15 in the district court. She is the wife of former minister and current Likud MK Yuval Steinitz.
Kasher, 60, is a lawyer of long-standing, specializing in civil and commercial litigation. He is a partner in the law firm of Tadmor Levy & Co., which is where the new attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, worked until recently.