With the Knesset Committee for the Appointment of Judges considering appointments for the two upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court, female MKs and women’s groups are calling for a woman to fill at least one of them. However, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked says she does not want considerations of equality and gender to be part of the selection process.
Just four of the 15 current justices are women: President Esther Hayut, Daphne Barak-Erez, Anat Baron and Yael Wilner. And of the 25 candidates for the Supreme Court, only five are women.
When the list of candidates was made public, MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) wrote to Shaked decrying the inequality, especially “in an institution that also serves as the High Court of Justice and frequently issues rulings regarding the seeking of equality in every area.”
MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) also drafted a letter to Shaked and Hayut, together with eight other women MKs from different parties: “The candidates selected by the committee will sit on the bench for many years and the appointment of two male justices would preserve a significant male majority and gender inequality in the institution for years to come.” Seven women’s groups, including Na’amat, Emunah, Mavoi Satum and WIZO, also signed the letter.
The Women’s Lobby also wrote to the committee, saying, “It is unacceptable that year after year a list of candidates is presented in which the gender inequality is so blatant.” Their letter went on to say, “The small percentage of women on the current list stands in total contradiction to the high rate of women lawyers and legal scholars, particularly in public service. If two women were appointed in this round, it would leave us with a Supreme Court composed of nine men and six women – still far from equal, but an action that would clearly indicate the way forward and advance the Supreme Court towards equal and appropriate representation.”
The lobby also cited the Women’s Equal Rights Law that says any public institution in which women are underrepresented shall give preference to a female candidate over a male candidate if they have similar skills. In 1994, the High Court ruled that this includes an obligation to locate and appoint suitable female candidates. Forty years ago, Justice Miriam Ben-Porat was the first woman appointed to Israel’s Supreme Court.
The stage of hearings for candidates for appointment to the Supreme Court began Thursday before the Committee for the Appointment of Judges, where 14 district judges were considered. On February 22, the committee, headed by Shaked, is scheduled to select replacements for justices Yoram Danziger and Uri Shoham, who will be retiring soon.
Ten days from now, 11 candidates who do not currently serve as judges will have a hearing before the committee. That is also when Professor Alex Stein, a candidate promoted by Shaked, is due to arrive in Israel.
Most of the judges who are candidates now were also candidates a year ago. They appeared before the committee and also met with Shaked. While the serving judges may be evaluated on the basis of their past rulings, for the external candidates the hearing stage is critical. Last year, the candidates from academia were asked about the treatment of new immigrants and Arabs, and some of their responses revealed seemingly racist attitudes.
Shaked says the selection will be based solely on professional considerations and she will not insist that a woman be appointed. However, Likud MK Nurit Koren, a committee member, has said she will push to get a woman picked.