Panel Fails to Name New Justices to Israel's Supreme Court Bench

Candidate list to be reopened with room for a more diverse group of candidates, particularly those from Jewish families of Middle Eastern or North African background.

The Judicial Appointments Committee met Sunday without selecting new justices for the Supreme Court, deciding instead that the candidate list would be reopened to make room for a more diverse group of candidates, particularly those from Jewish families of Middle Eastern or North African background.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch - along with justices Asher Dan Grunis and Miriam Naor and a fourth member of the panel - voted against the three candidates supported by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.

Beinisch Bagatz 17.10.11
Dudu Vaknin

Beinisch said Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg, one of the three candidates, was a talented judge, but that appointing him would be interpreted as choosing a right-wing candidate because he had been depicted as such in the media. She said such a public perception would have dangerous implications for the Supreme Court.

The other two candidates are Zvi Zylbertal, deputy president of the Jerusalem District Court, and Dvora Berliner, president of the Tel Aviv District Court. They will now have to compete against additional candidates, including those from Mizrahi backgrounds.

One member of the appointments committee said Beinisch could be waiting for the results of Tuesday's Israel Bar Association vote to determine which two members would be chosen as the bar's representatives on the judicial selection panel.

It does not appear that the Knesset will have enough time before the vote to pass the controversial law proposing to reserve one of the spots for the president of the bar association. In that case, the new representatives could be supporters of former bar association chairman Yori Geiron, who is considered close to Beinisch - and that would give Beinisch extra leverage in another possible standoff with Neeman before the chief justice retires in February.

But members of the Judicial Appointments Committee said the next justices might not be selected until after Beinisch stepped down, since it would take several months until new candidates were chosen and the committee was able to reconvene.

At yesterday's committee meeting, Neeman criticized Beinisch, Naor and Grunis for refusing to appoint the three candidates, whom they had previously agreed to support.

A source close to Beinisch said the Supreme Court justices were being blamed for the absence of Mizrahi candidates, and that keeping to the deal reached with Neeman and going through with the vote would make it seem like Supreme Court justices didn't want to see another Mizrahi judge on the court. Edmond Levy, who retired from the court last month, was the last Supreme Court justice of Mizrahi background.

The source said Beinisch realized the vote against Berliner, Sohlberg and Zylbertal meant she might not be one of those who voted in the next Supreme Court justices. She did not want to vote for a politicized candidate and was interested in opening the list to prospective Mizrahi justices, the source added.