Israel’s ‘Ticking Bomb’ Judges

YERUSHALAYIM -

The Israeli judiciary has suffered a blow to its prestige over a disclosure that unfit judges described as “ticking bombs” should be removed from the system but have been retained due to pension issues.

The Legal Forum for Justice for the Land of Israel asked on Tuesday that Supreme Court President Asher Grunis act immediately to dismiss those judges whom he had called a “ticking bomb” in closed-door meetings and whom the court administration had declared unfit for duty.

The demand was based on protocols of meetings of high-level court officials who appeared to agree on the desirability of retiring those judges under review but were reluctant to do so because their pensions would be harmed by forced early retirement or dismissal.

The director-general of the forum, Nahi Eyal, wrote to Grunis, asserting that the public should not have to suffer from such judges. Grunis himself had said during the discussions that “public was paying a price for it.”

The situation has been known to the High Court, if not the public, for at least a year. On January 13, 2012, then-Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch said at a committee meeting, “We have a list of judges who we could cause to retire if we could offer them their pensions. In the meantime, we have no solution.”

A spokesman for the courts responded to the allegations, saying that the “issue of pension rights of judges requires investigation. Changes in the system for pension rights given to judges requires a decision of the Knesset Finance Committee and is not in the hands of the judges.”

Eyal asserted that the Justice Ministry should have published the protocols of the meetings of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which dealt with the issue, on its own initiative, as directed by Justice Elyakim Rubinstein around five years ago.

In Israel, judges are chosen by a nine-member committee comprised of three High Court judges chosen by the Court President, two representatives from the government, two members of the Knesset and two members of the bar association. This gives the judges a major say, if not a practical veto, over who are to become judges.

The judges have resisted attempts to democratize the system. When MK Yariv Levin (Likud), an attorney by profession, last year introduced a proposal to have judges come before the Knesset Committee on the Constitution, Law and Justice for approval, he encountered stiff opposition from the judiciary and its mostly leftist supporters who accused him of undermining democracy.