What's Scaring the Judges?

The only democracy in the Middle East, a country that respects the rule of law, is now concocting limits on freedom of speech.

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis and Judge Michael Spitzer, who heads the courts administration, recently met with the attorney general, the state attorney, the commissioner of the Israel Police and the head of the investigation and intelligence unit. As reported in this newspaper by Revital Hovel, the subject of their discussion was a ban on demonstrations in front of judges' homes.

The only democracy in the Middle East, a country that respects the rule of law, is now concocting limits on freedom of speech. Those same judges who are very good at protecting such civil rights when it comes to others, rush to action when those affected by the exercise of those rights are the judges themselves.

Of course proper procedure justifies preventing attempts to obstruct justice. Those procedures involve not only judges, but also complainants, witnesses, investigators and prosecutors. Any time an improper attempt surfaces affecting any of these parties, steps that the law allows should be taken against the perpetrators. But the law does not relate specifically to judges. The legislature did not give preferred status in this regard to judges.

If Israeli judges are not sufficiently up to facing protest vigils, placards or criticism, perhaps they have made a mistake in their choice of profession, which is also a calling. It is not that there should be tolerance of anarchy or the storming of courthouses by incited masses, or the harassment of judges' families or of slander against judges. On the other hand, there is a solution to every problem, and it doesn't require a sweeping distinction between the judges and the public at large. What starts as a ban on protests could quickly expand to include limits on press coverage of judges' conduct in the courtroom and outside of court.

The main concern that should preoccupy a fair and skilled judge are considerations of law and justice and truth. In addition, there should be reverence by judges for higher courts up to the Supreme Court, so that on appeal, judges will be concerned about the prospect that their decisions would be overturned rather than fear of criticism of themselves as judges.

Officials exist to deal with order, discipline and promotion, from the president of the Supreme Court to the courts administration and the judicial ombudsman and judicial selection committee. If judges are capable of living with all of that, and with their own consciences, it should not be too difficult for them to also withstand public protest, as long as it is not violent, intrusive or threatening.