Israel's Chief Justice, AG Slam New Justice Minister's 'Irresponsible Worldview'

Justice Minister Amir Ohana said that in certain cases the High Court's decisions should not be followed. 'The path is short between such a worldview and anarchy,' Supreme Court President Esther Hayut warns

Esther Hayut and Amir Ohana.
Marc Israel Sellem/Tomer Appelbaum

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut took new justice minister Amir Ohana to task on Thursday for saying that High Court of Justice rulings do not necessarily have to be followed.

The fact that the justice minister chose to "share his unprecedented and irresponsible worldview that not every ruling of the court has to be respected should be viewed with gravity," Hayut said.

Ohana, who was sworn into office last week, has repeatedly criticized the judicial system and the Supreme Court. In a radio interview earlier this year, Ohana said "not every ruling needs to be enforced, just as not every law needs to be enforced," a view he reaffirmed on Wednesday in a television interview.

Hayut responded sarcastically to this assertion, saying: "In other words, from now on, with the minister's blessing, any litigant can choose which rulings need to be followed and which do not." Hayut warned: "The path is short between such a worldview and the anarchy of 'every man doing that which is right in his own eyes,'" referring to a passage in the biblical Book of Judges

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit released a statement saying that "In Israel, a Jewish and democratic country that is based on the rule of law, the obligation to obey to court rulings is fundamental and guarantees that the rights of all of Israel's citizens are protected. [Following court rulings] is not a choice, but an obligation imposed on every Israeli citizen and authority."

The statement added that "The law enforcement authorities and the State Prosecution– headed by the attorney general and the state prosecutor – are led by practical and professional considerations. Decisions are taken only on the basis of investigative materials and the law, and in no way influenced by other considerations."  

"The attorney general will continue fully cooperating with the justice minister and the government, while ensuring a fruitful and respectful dialogue," the statement added.

Back in February, Ohana said that "in Nazi Germany there were laws that shouldn't have been enforced. Just as there are illegal orders and illegal laws, so there are also illegal court rulings." According to Ohana, "the state's first responsibility is the wellbeing of its citizens, and when the High Court of Justice interferes in decisions that could harm citizens' wellbeing, I would expect the government to draw a red line and say 'enough.'"

When asked in a Channel 12 interview Wednesday if he still stands by those statements, Ohana brought up the 2004 murder of Tali Hatuel and her four young daughters by members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The army wanted to destroy the homes of the terrorists, but the High Court of Justice prevented them. "The highest consideration must be safeguarding the lives of the people," he said.  

In a subsequent Facebook post, he said his comments about not respecting court decisions related only to extreme circumstances involving a threat to human life.  "We need to respect the courts' decisions. I have always done so and that's what I believe."

In Wednesday's Channel 12 interview, Ohana added that he feels there is a possibility that he will be framed in a criminal investigation by the state prosecution. "I believe it won't happen, but I'm taking it as a possibility, he said. "I received many warnings. However many lies and falsehoods there will be, we'll deal with it." He added that those in the justice system are not always "pure-winged angels who make their decisions out of professional considerations alone."

Ohana has regularly expressed support for legislation that would grant immunity from prosecution while in office to elected officials as well as legislation allowing the Knesset to vote to override Supreme Court rulings. The issue is of particular relevance at the moment in connection with three pending criminal investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has said he has decided to indict, subject to a pre-indictment hearing scheduled for October 2.

Meanwhile, Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich responded to Hayut's comments on Twitter, writing that "The fact that the Supreme Court president allows herself to sharply and publicly criticize the chosen justice minister should be viewed with gravity."