The Israeli Justice Who Violates International Law Every Time He Comes Home

Justice Noam Sohlberg is allowed to curb freedom of expression in defamation cases if he likes. But as a resident of the West Bank, he’s an offender.

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Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg.
Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg.

The legal world isn’t a particularly humorous place. It’s not common for someone to burst out laughing reading a judicial decision, but that’s what happened to me this week. Bitter laugh struck me while I was studying the Supreme Court decision barring an alternative to the kashrut supervision industry, however arcane that might be.

The court perpetuated a wrong. It renewed its approval for the country’s most corrupt and ruthless monopoly – the Chief Rabbinate. It’s a monopoly that has no counterpart in the business world and, in its scope and the nature of its operations, it wouldn’t dream of being subject to the Antitrust Authority.

What made me laugh, though, wasn’t the court opinion but the justices who heard the case. The decision was supported by two justices and one justice dissented. The two who kept the messianic power in the rabbinate’s hands were Elyakim Rubinstein and Noam Sohlberg, both of them observant Orthodox Jews who grew up in the religious Zionist movement.

The court let the cats guard the cream, a highly odd choice of justices. It’s so bizarre that it’s not strange at all. It’s clear that it was deliberate, on the assumption that it would be better to have religious justices handle issues that are close to their hearts.

But logic should have had it exactly the other way around. There’s a clear conflict of interest in this case that involves tension between religion and state. The secular justice on the panel, by the way, was the one who dissented.

In light of this farce, now seems a good time to discuss a personal matter pertaining to one of the two justices in the majority, even if it involves the most sensitive of taboos, certainly taking into account the current zeitgeist. I’m referring to His Honor Noam Sohlberg. There’s a problem with Sohlberg that’s a matter of principle.

The problem isn’t that he wears a kippa. Or that he was the only justice among five to come down entirely on the government’s side on the petitions challenging the plan for the country’s offshore natural gas reserves. Or even that he once ruled against Ilana Dayan and the staff of her news program “Uvda” and has greatly curbed freedom of expression and the press in defamation cases.

After all, a justice has the right to have a conservative and establishment-oriented judicial disposition. It’s preferable for the court to have a range of opinions and departure points.

The problem with Sohlberg, and there’s no roundabout way to say it, is that he’s a resident of a West Bank settlement. He lives in Alon Shvut, a settlement in the heart of Gush Etzion, considered a place Israel would retain. It’s only five minutes from Jerusalem but still beyond the 1967 border.

It was built on captured military land. International law and conventions on the laws of war bar an occupying power from permanently holding occupied land or transferring civilian populations to it.

Israel never annexed the West Bank after occupying it in 1967 and maintains a military administration there. Sohlberg is taking an active part in a national transgression. He's a partner to the offense. By definition, he's an offender.

The settlers fervently claim, actually correctly, that they were sent by the government to expropriate and settle the land. They’re far from being outcasts. They have gradually integrated into every walk of public life and have reached the full range of key positions – in politics, in the security forces, in the media.

Now we have a settler as defense minister and even a settler as police chief. And based on the court’s seniority system, in 2028 we will have a settler as chief justice, meaning an offender as president of the Supreme Court. And that’s nothing to laugh about.

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