Opinion |

There Aren't Enough (Female) Judges in Jerusalem

The Court has made some bold rulings on male-female equality, but its own makeup is less impressive | Opinion.

Elah Alkalay
Elah Alkalay
A swearing-in ceremony of judges and registrars at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.
A swearing-in ceremony of judges and registrars at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.Credit: Mark Neiman/GPO
Elah Alkalay
Elah Alkalay

The date for choosing new Supreme Court justices to replace those who will be retiring is getting closer, and the judicial appointments committee has an opportunity to take a big step for gender equality by nominating four women, so that starting in 2017, there will be seven women justices of the 15 who make up the country’s most senior judicial panel.

While the Supreme Court has some bold and innovative rulings to its credit when it comes to equality between men and women – some even more progressive than the courts of other countries committed to equality – when it comes to its own makeup it has some explaining to do.

Until 1977, it was a male-only preserve. It took 29 years to appoint the first female justice, and even today there are only four women on the High Court, with one of them, President Miriam Naor, about to retire.

Women constitute about half of the lawyers in Israel, and they serve in varied capacities, including public service and on the bench. Nevertheless, of the 28 recommended candidates in the final running for the next round of appointments, only seven are women – just a quarter. This unfortunate fact, which mirrors the absence of women in positions of influence in Israel, isn’t prominent enough on the public agenda. Those involved act as if it’s clear (as always) that the members of the judicial appointments committee have more important and urgent considerations, like the candidates’ ideological approaches to the law, which shove aside the gender equality issue.

In response to a petition by Yael Aran and the Israel Women’s Network in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that at the first stage of any appointments process by a public body, women’s representation must be taken into account. That was the ruling of the state’s highest court with regard to all state institutions, and it should apply to the High Court even more so. Though appointments to the bench are not exactly the same thing as appointing someone to a public position through a tender, the difference isn’t that great. The Supreme Court and the judicial system should be committed to merit-based appointments, to gender equality and to a panel that doesn’t just reflect different populations, but also the gender composition of the population of Israeli jurists.

Israel’s legal code and case law has already established a requirement for suitable representation and affirmative action for women in public bodies. In the process of choosing High Court justices there’s no need for affirmative action or to compromise on professionalism. There’s also no need to delay or postpone the process, since the candidates’ list already includes seven worthy, professional and suitable women. For the court to reflect the principles that it has promulgated, the judicial appointments committee must pick four of them.

Women’s representation is not just required by law, it’s a public and moral imperative. It has the power to provide new, fresh viewpoints, lead to positive change in public service and Israeli democracy, and strengthen the Supreme Court as an institution that all citizens, men and women, can continue to look up to with pride and confidence.

The writer is chairwoman of the Israel Women’s Network and a member of Supersonas, which advocates for a balanced presence of women at all decision-making levels.

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