Israel's Supreme Court Must Maintain Its Independence, Says Outgoing President

Dorit Beinisch, ending a 45-year legal career, makes her last ruling and approves petitions against a law denying state aid to low-income earners who own a car.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch put down her gavel Tuesday morning, ending a 45-year legal career, and urged in her farewell remarks that it is crucial to maintain the independence of court.

In a ceremony at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, Beinisch, choked with tears, thanked her family, coworkers and friends, summed up her experiences, and gave advice to those who will continue where she is leaving off.

Dorit Beinisch Asher Grunis - Dudi Vaknin - 28022012
Dudi Vaknin

"As a judge in the Supreme Court I have always believed that it is most important to maintain the independence of the court and to maintain its ability to carry out the values of democracy," Beinisch said. "Every Israeli must know that the court is his fortress."

The ceremony followed Beinisch’s reading of a ruling on a petition against the law preventing low-income earners who own or use a vehicle from receiving financial aid from the state. In a unanimous ruling by a panel of seven judges, the court accepted the appeal, saying the law was unconstitutional.

Supreme Court  - Gil Yohanan - 28022012
Gil Yohanan

Beinisch has served for 15 years at the High Court of Justice, including the last five and a half as Supreme Court president. Her presidency was characterized mostly by her conflict with former minister Daniel Friedman, when the Supreme Court was under attack from the justice minister himself. Beinisch managed to intercept most of Friedman's initiatives, such as limiting the public's right to petition the High Court of Justice, limiting the areas the court could adjudicate and limiting judicial activism.

Beinisch summed up her legal career saying: “It seems to me that throughout the years, I had opportunity to deal with every legal domain the state was involved in.”

“The most difficult decisions I had to make as a judge were those affecting the lives of individuals, when I had to consolidate personal sentiment with the dictates of the law. In decision of this kind, a judge must remember that behind every case there is a man whose life will be changed for many years to come based on his ruling.”

Turning to the future of Israeli society, Beinisch warned that “we must attend to the growing strife in the different strata of Israeli society. The middle class feels neglected, which could lead to the destabilization of the entire structure. The changes the country has experienced in recent years have forced the legal system to take up the new task of dealing with a new reality. Our society is dealing with innumerable problems. We are living in a polarized society, in a harsh reality.”

The ruling Beinsch gave in Tuesday morning was a petition by Adalah on behalf of a man who received supplementary income and asked the National Insurance Institute to use a car to transport his blind daughter. The NII refused, although the petitioner was the only man who could help his daughter.

Beinisch retired on Tuesday, but over the next three months she is expected to hand down High Court of Justice verdicts on a number of petitions pertaining to civil rights.

One petition, submitted against the Airport Authority, Shin Bet security service and Transportation Ministry, demands that they stop using the Arab nationality as a criterion for carrying out security checks at airports.

Another petition was filed against the legislation permitting cell phone companies and Internet service providers to disclose personal details of their clients to the police and other authorities. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, one of the petitioners, says the legislation contradicts the constitutional right to privacy.

Beinisch will also issue a verdict on petitions against tax laws that deprive Arab communities from tax benefits that are given to neighboring Jewish communities.

Read this article in Hebrew