Opinion

Israeli Justice Minister’s Personal Import to the Supreme Court

Ayelet Shaked didn’t choose Prof. Alex Stein because he’s a legal genius, but because of the right-wing views he espoused for 14 years at the not-so-stellar Brooklyn Law

New Justice Alex Stein, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the President's Residence, August 9, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Last week, Justice Uri Shoham retired from the Supreme Court. His place will be filled by Prof. Alex Stein. To win this plum appointment, Stein had to return to Israel.

His Wikipedia entry, for now available only in Hebrew, proudly notes that in 1973 he made aliyah from the Soviet Union. Another year, 2004, isn’t highlighted as much. This is when Stein emigrated with his family to the United States. This makes him an unprecedented case, even among the 147 judges that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked prides herself in having appointed since she took office three years ago: a personal import of a Supreme Court justice.

Stein’s résumé is diverse and interesting. His expertise, rules of evidence, is certainly relevant for the Supreme Court – which serves as the highest court of appeal. In the second area of the Supreme Court’s work – public and constitutional law where it sits as the High Court of Justice – Stein has never worked.

As part of the efforts of Shaked and her collaborators in the Judicial Appointments Committee, Stein was sold as a rare international legal genius. This is far from the truth. He received a doctorate from University College London, and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem he reached the position of deputy dean of the law school. After that he moved to Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University in New York, and two years ago he left there for the modestly ranked Brooklyn Law School, whose graduates are not part of the academic and judicial elite.

A member of the Judicial Appointments Committee, MK Robert Ilyatov (Yisrael Beiteinu), declared that Stein’s writings were “carefully studied” at the world’s best law schools. This is not accurate. Stein has never studied or taught in the Ivy League, and not at their European equivalents either. In this way he’s different from Stanley Fischer, a former governor of the Bank of Israel. Fischer did his Ph.D. in economics at MIT and taught there too, and was a professor at the University of Chicago and Oxford.

But the main issue that should have ruled Stein out was his decision to give up his Israeliness. A judge isn’t a technical professional appointment. He must live among his people – and this is certainly the case for a Supreme Court justice, who deals with core issues of the public, civil an social spheres.

Stein wasn’t here during stormy periods, whether the Gaza disengagement, the Second Lebanon War, the Gaza wars, the 2011 social protests or the battles over the image and work of the Supreme Court. For the past 14 years, he and his family have not shared the burden of Israeliness. As part of the appointment process he agreed out of the goodness of his heart for his son, now 24, to do shortened military service.

Only one thing truly enabled Stein to be appointed to the lofty post: his right-wing and conservative views, which he held from a safe distance in Brooklyn. For example, he has claimed that Israel isn’t obligated to supply electricity to Gaza. From the right he has criticized the army’s ethical standards and attacked the Supreme Court. When all this was exposed by Channel 2 News, Stein rushed to delete the Facebook page on which he expressed these opinions. The expert on the rules of evidence hid the evidence.

But a member of the committee, MK Nurit Koren (Likud), hastily clarified that “the exposure of the opinions of Justice Stein is exactly why Ayelet Shaked and I fought for him on the Judicial Appointments Committee, and exactly why he’s a Supreme Court justice!”

This week, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Haaretz regarding the new nation-state law: “When the makeup of the justices on the Supreme Court is different, we’ll be able to achieve what we’ve wanted.” All this makes it very clear why Shaked presented Stein’s appointment as an ultimatum. What’s impossible to understand is the surrender by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and her colleagues to this shameful and harmful appointment.