Gas Deal Ruling Stems From Respect, Not Scorn, for Government

Some ministers, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, took the opportunity to bash the court before they took the time to read the verdict’s 180 pages or understand what it meant.

Offshore Leviathan natural gas drilling site.
Albatross

The High Court of Justice’s verdict on Sunday revoked the controversial gas deal that had been signed by the government. This was a landmark decision of judicial activism on the part of a court whose rulings in recent years were marked with restraint and conservatism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who threw his whole weight behind ratifying the deal and even made an unprecedented appearance in court, issued a sharp response to the ruling. He also blamed the court for the economic instability that the ruling will cause, spicing his comment with threats about the gas that will remain deep underground.

A number of ministers, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also took the opportunity to bash the court before they took the time to read the verdict’s 180 pages or understand what it meant. Shaked, whose duty is also to protect the justice system and its independence, said: “It’s unthinkable that the government is responsible for the country’s economy and growth, but remains without the necessary authority to act. It’s impossible to work this way in a properly run country.”

Thus the ministers contributed to the inciting, hollow discourse against the court. The coalition’s ministers and lawmakers have been encouraging this discourse in recent years and it becomes more strident every time they don’t agree with a ruling.

Supreme Court President Miriam Naor used the inauguration of the Magistrate’s Court in Beit Shemesh on Tuesday to publicly slam the government’s vitriol on the justice system she heads. Without mentioning Netanyahu and Shaked by name, Naor said that things had been said by people in the government and Knesset that are inappropriate within a Jewish democratic state that respects the rule of law.

Indeed, this is not how senior elected public officials are supposed to speak about the state’s supreme judicial authority. Netanyahu would have done well to overcome his urges, all the more so in response to a verdict he doesn’t like, and announce, as Menachem Begin did in his day, “there are judges in Jerusalem.” This would have conveyed a statesmanlike message to all the inciters that the court system must be respected, whatever its rulings.

Had the politicians bothered to read the verdict before they rushed to comment on it, they would have found that striking down the so-called “stability clause” of the gas deal stems not from the court’s scorn for the government’s power and authority, but from its respect for it.

As the Supreme Court ruled in the past, the executive and legislative authorities have the power and duty to exercise their judgement constantly and continuously, and the current government and Knesset do not have the authority to restrict the judgement of those who rule in the future.

The public officials should understand this lesson when they draft an alternative plan to the one that was nixed.