Battle Flares Over Judiciary in Special Knesset Session

YERUSHALAYIM -

The battle over Israel’s judiciary flared up again on Monday, as opposition MKs accused Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of seeking to intimidate the High Court into an ideological retreat.

Shaked threatened recently that there would be an “earthquake” in Israel if the court would even hold hearings on the Jewish state law, whose passage her Jewish Home party had vigorously supported. Shaked argues that the court has no jurisdiction over it, since it now has the status of a Basic Law, a type of constitutional law which is not amenable to judicial overturn like ordinary laws.

At an emergency recess session called by the Opposition on Monday, MK Shelly Yachimovich accused Shaked of trying to frighten the judges by threatening to remove those who are not to her liking.

“I suspect that your speech of slander and incitement against the Court was not only intended to scare the justices and cajole them into rulings that are to your liking, but worse: that you are knowingly planting the seeds that will prepare the groundwork for the dismissal of Court justices and the dismissal of the Court president.

“Why don’t you save time and give the Supreme Court a detailed list of what it can and cannot rule on, which decisions you approve of and what you will not tolerate?” the Zionist Camp MK said. “You’ve built, step by step, the alleged illegitimacy of our Court, you are inciting against it with cold calculation.”

Meretz chair MK Tamar Zandberg cited Shaked’s apparent claim that Israel’s top judges have for years acted as “a branch of Meretz,” Israel’s leftist party, and her repeated calls to limit its power to annul Knesset legislation.

“The High Court of Justice is the focus of an extreme, unbridled attack aimed at clipping its wings and distorting the foundations on which it was established,” Zandberg said. “Don’t you dare raise a hand against the High Court of Justice, which safeguards the basic principle according to which all humans are born equal. While the High Court of Justice has never been a branch of Meretz, we stand by it because it protects the rule of law.”

Shaked, who studiously ignored most of the attacks on her, took exception to the reference to the comparison of the Court to Meretz, insisting that she never said such a thing, and had been misquoted in an interview.

“I never said the High Court is a branch of Meretz,” Shaked said, “you are all repeating this lie, one after the other.”
“Apparently, none of you even read it,” she said. “Those were the interviewer’s words, I didn’t say them.”

When she took the podium, Shaked denied that she was undermining the rule of law, asserting that her left-wing antagonists were actually more harmful to the judiciary.

“Your crass statements turn this discussion into a farce,” she said. “You were never advocates of the court and you certainly set no example, not in terms of manners, and not in terms of etiquette. You don’t really want an independent, strong and upstanding court. You want a subservient court. You prefer it tamed. As long as it is aligned with your [opinions] it is the source of justice; the second it proposes an approach that is slightly different you are ready to burn down the clubhouse.”

Despite calls of “hypocrite” from the plenum, she continued:

“As the minister of justice, I call upon those who sit in this House — on the Left and the Right — to maintain dignified discourse. We don’t have another legal system. Of course it is legitimate to express criticism against a ruling. It is acceptable to argue over ideas, it is permissible to argue over areas of authority. I do so from time to time, but we must maintain respectability and dignified discourse.”