Next Justice Minister Must Protect Independence of Israel's Courts

Netanyahu would be wrong to pick Likud MK Yariv Levin, who has already declared his desire to eliminate the judicial system’s independence and subordinate it to the will of politicians.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Minister Yariv Levin.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

“For five and a half years, you stood proudly at the head of the judicial authority of Israel,” Benjamin Netanyahu told outgoing Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch at the swearing-in of her successor, Justice Asher Grunis, in 2012. “It was a difficult period. The judicial system came under attack more than once, and at times, the arrows were directed at you. These attacks were unsuccessful, both against you and against the court” the prime minister said, adding that he did not and will not allow the court to be harmed.

Unlike his predecessor Ehud Olmert, who declared war on the judicial system when he appointed Daniel Friedmann justice minister, Netanyahu never expressed interest in such a war. Despite making Yaakov Ne’eman justice minister (as part of the coalition agreement with Yisrael Beitenu) in his second government, in 2009, he did not give his support to initiatives introduced by Ne’eman in order to weaken the judicial system and politicizing the judicial appointment process. It could be said that Netanyahu protected the judicial system and the independence of the judiciary.

All this will change if Netanyahu appoints MK Yariv Levin justice minister. Levin has already declared that he seeks to eliminate the judicial system’s independence and subordinate it to the politicians. He would abolish the custom, introduced with the court’s founding, of awarding the presidency of the Supreme Court to the justice with the most seniority — a practice that guarantees that the justices will not have to compete among themselves for the favor of politicians. He would alter the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee so that political considerations would become central. He would weaken the office of attorney general, that has been shaped over many years to ensure that the government upholds the very laws that it has passed, and make the position a political appointment, with no oversight.

Gilad Erdan has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for justice minister. His commitment to protecting the judicial system has not been established, and he is likely to be a oppositional justice minister. Netanyahu’s position is strong. He doesn’t need to wage war on the judicial system, and in his party are candidates who would preclude such a war. Benny Begin is one, as is MK Tzachi Hanegbi, a former justice minister, despite a perjury conviction. Either one would be a worthy justice minister.

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