‘As an Arab, That Period Wasn’t Easy’: Israeli Justice Karra Retires

Supreme Court Justice George Karra notes that the principal of equality, 'a cornerstone of sorts for every democratic government' must be constitutionally enshrined to 'encompass all of the the country's citizens'

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
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Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Justice George Karra, and Justice Yitzhak Amit at Justice George Karra's retirement ceremony on Sunday.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Justice George Karra, and Justice Yitzhak Amit at Justice George Karra's retirement ceremony on Sunday. Credit: יונתן זינדל/פלאש90
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

Supreme Court Justice George Karra, who served the court in a spot reserved for an Arab justice, retired from the bench on Sunday at the age of 70.

At his retirement ceremony on Sunday, Karra spoke of the difficulties he countered over his last five years as the Supreme Court's only Arab justice, noting that during those years, the country and Israeli society endured polarizing social and political developments that "deepened the divide between Arabs and Jews."

“As an Arab minority justice, that period wasn’t easy for me," Karra said, "but true to the words of the passage in the Book of Deuteronomy, I expressed my opinion and as I used to sometimes say to my law clerks -it’s good to be part of the majority opinion, but it’s not terrible to be in the minority.”

Karra noted that when he differed from the other justices, it was always a disagreement with the best of intentions, for the sake of the truth and on the merits of the matter.”

Justice Karra was initially appointed a magistrate court judge in 1989 and was elevated to the Tel Aviv District Court in 2000. In 2017, he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

During his time on the bench, he handled hundreds of criminal cases, and headed the panel of district court judges that convicted Israel's former president, Moshe Katsav, of rape. While on the Supreme Court, he was often in the minority – one example being his dissent in cases involving the demolition of terrorists' homes.

“In recent weeks, there have been media reports about welcome renewed thought to enshrine the principle of equality in legislation,” he noted.

“Everyone knows that the principal of equality – which is a fundamental constitutional principle, a cornerstone of sorts for every democratic government and one of its mainstays – is not explicitly enshrined in the basic laws,” Karra said, referencing the body of Israeli laws that have constitutional status in the absence of a proper constitution.

“The variety of proposals and positions that have been raised on the subject of the principle of equality in legislation is equal to the number of factions behind them,” he quipped. “I do not intend to express a stance regarding … how this constitutional enshrining should be carried out, but however it’s done, it would be proper for it to encompass all of the country’s citizens.”

In remarks about crime in general and crime in the Arab community in particular, he said that the problem is not one of predestined fate. “It’s more similar to a disease that takes root in a person’s body. That’s how it takes root in society,” he said. “It’s also infectious when the violence crosses sectors [of the population]. Therefore, the stronger the immune system, the more that crime is of a lower intensity and under control,” he stated, “but recently, the immune system of society has weakened. The race for the easy money obtained from the fruits of engaging in crime, the weakening of the family unit, lax parental authority, violent discourse and an absence of enforcement and deterrence have resulted in crime raising its head and consuming all portions of society, and frequently it’s also innocent citizens who pay the price.”

Karra warned that a properly run society cannot reconcile itself with crime running rampant on its streets, whatever its causes may be. “As an initial emergency step, there are grounds for increasing enforcement and every step that law [enforcement] authorities take in this direction should be welcomed,” he said.

“But the challenge is great and the work considerable. With regard to the long term, investment should be made in educating toward tolerance, dialogue and nonviolence, but until those seeds sprout, and in order to provide them with a base and climate, uncompromising enforcement in the immediate term is required. This court, as the highest legal level and one of the influential enforcement branches, has always been committed – and recently even more so – to strengthen enforcement through stiffer punishment for offenses involving violence and weapons,” he said.

“In addition to increased enforcement and stiffer punishment by the legislator and the courts, there are also grounds for rethinking the issue of making criminal proceedings more efficient, in part by adapting criminal legal procedure to the current era with its technological developments and by removing barriers that cause proceedings to be dragged out,” he said.

“With cooperation among all of the law enforcement systems, I am certain that the State of Israel, which has overcome the coronavirus pandemic, and has been an exemplary model for other countries around the world in that field, is capable of eradicating this crime epidemic, which is severely harming the personal security of its citizens and their quality of life,” Karra declared.

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