Israel's Justice Minister Must Stop Attempts to Fundamentally Distort Israeli Democracy

It would behoove Ayelet Shaked to focus on understanding the basic values of a truly democratic society, in which the role of the Supreme Court is at times to check and balance.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, March, 2016.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is quickly becoming a tangible threat to the independence of the Supreme Court and the ability of the judicial branch to fulfill its role in a democratic regime.

Her remarks Monday at the Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat embody the position that government ought to be free from constitutional restrictions and checks and balances. Given that the Knesset does not provide any checks or balances, it falls on the law and the High Court of Justice to do the job. Shakeds remarks indicate that she is seeking to fundamentally distort Israeli democracy.

The status of the High Court is what makes the world consider Israel a democracy, yet the justice minister chooses to repeatedly strike out at the senior judicial echelon. The issue this time was the the High Courts ruling on the gas framework, in which it insisted that the clause banning regulatory changes for 10 years be backed by legislation. For Shaked, that was proof of the need to change the face of the Supreme Court through the four new appointments expected in 2017.

Shaked expressed public support for the minority opinion of Justice Noam Sohlberg, who preferred to deny the petitions against the gas framework and leave it as it was. It would have been better if she had not done so. In Israeli courts, the majority rules, even though every judge is encouraged to express his legal opinion.

Shaked didnt hesitate to try to pull the wool over the publics eyes by comparing the cabinet decision on the gas framework to the Oslo Accords. Surely she knows that the Oslo Accords were submitted to the Knesset for approval, just as the High Court proposed the government do with the gas framework?

No less serious is her intent to evaluate candidates for the Supreme Court based on whether they have the correct positions on various issues. This is politicization of court rulings at all levels of the judicial system, as well as of the appointment process, which treads a thin line between political motivations and professional standards.

But beyond the politicizing, Shakeds approach is liable to do serious harm to human and civil rights in Israel. Shaked is ignoring the fact that it is only due to the judicial activism of former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, as well as his predecessors and successors, that women can be air force pilots and government company directors; that politicians accused of crimes cannot continue to serve as cabinet ministers; that those evacuated from Gaza during the disengagement got enhanced compensation; that newspapers enjoy the freedom to publish opinions that oppose those of the government; and that children with Down Syndrome can be integrated into mainstream education.

It would behoove Shaked to focus on understanding the basic values of a truly democratic society, in which the role of the Supreme Court is at times to check and balance. She should not undermine the professional judicial tradition that has developed in Israel.

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