Israel's Supreme Court President Criticized for Handling of Appeals Against Citizenship Law

Sources say that had Beinisch urged the justices to rule on the appeals before the retirement of Justice Procaccia, who objected to the law, the majority of justices would have voted to revoke the controversial law.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch actively upheld a law that bans Palestinians from living in Israel with Israeli spouses despite the fact that she supported revoking it, sources involved in the appeals against the law said yesterday.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the Citizenship Law. The justices were divided in their opinions on it, with six voting to uphold it and five opposing it. Beinisch was among the five who supported revoking the law, but sources involved in the appeals said she took steps that led to the opposite verdict.

Dorit Beinisch - Olivier Fittousi - 05012012
Olivier Fittousi

Sources said that had Beinisch urged the justices to rule on the appeals before the retirement of Justice Ayala Procaccia, who objected to the law, the majority of justices would have voted to revoke it.

Beinisch could also have replaced Procaccia with a justice who agreed with her, rather than with Neal Hendel, a religious judge who upheld the Citizenship Law, the sources said. Beinisch could have replaced Procaccia with Justice Uzi Vogelman, who sees eye to eye with her and has liberal opinions, or Justice Isaac Amit, the sources said.

"It appears that with the Supreme Court currently under attack, Beinisch feared raising a political and public uproar with a verdict revoking the Citizenship Law," said one other source. "So although she supported scrapping the law, she didn't really want it revoked.

"The High Court is afraid of ruling against the Knesset. That is why it rejected the appeal against the Nakba Law this month [which imposes sanctions on state-funded bodies that support commemoration of what Palestinians call the "catastrophe" of the founding of the state in 1948]. Beinisch doesn't want to end her term under the cloud of confrontation with the Knesset," the source said.

The appeals against the Citizenship Law were submitted in 2007 and the last hearing in the case was held in March 2010. The verdict could have been written any time since then. Justice Edmond Levy, who deemed the law unconstitutional, had written his ruling on the appeals in July 2010, he said on Wednesday.

A legal source familiar with the appeals said Beinisch and the other justices already knew what Levy's opinion was. Procaccia, who slammed the Citizenship Law as unconstitutional in the previous verdict, retired last April and published her final verdict in July 2011.

The source said it was clear in July 2010 that Levy's joining the justices opposing the law changed the power balance. If Procaccia had written the verdict then, the law's opponents would have had a majority.

Why, then, didn't Beinisch urge the justices to complete the verdict by July, the last date on which Procaccia could have signed her verdict before retiring? the sources asked.

"Clearly, had Procaccia written the verdict rather than Hendel, who replaced her on the panel, the verdict would have been different. Did any of the justices uphold his opinion until Procaccia left and another justice, of a different opinion, replaced her?" the source asked.

Levy said that although he had written his stance about a year and a half ago, he received the opinions of three other panel members, who upheld the law, only this week, a day and a half before the last date for signing the verdict.

A lawyer specializing in human rights, who is not connected to the petitioners, said yesterday Beinisch's decision to add Hendel to the panel determined the verdict