Israeli justice minister promises to rein in Israel’s runaway High Court

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked promises to put an end to the Israeli High Court’s overreach.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

The Israeli High Court’s decision on Sunday to ban far-right candidate Michael Ben-Ari, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (or “Jewish Strength”) party, from participating in the coming elections raised a storm of criticism from Israel’s right, with proposals being made to curtail the court’s power.

The most far-reaching plan came from Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who on Monday said that the court has “turned  itself into a political factor. The decision by the High Court of Justice to disqualify Ben-Ari and, on the other hand, to permit terror-supporting parties is a blatant and misleading intervention that goes to the core of Israeli democracy.”

Shaked referred to the fact that at the same time that the High Court decided to ban Ben-Ari for racist statements, it rejected appeals to ban far-left candidate Ofer Cassif and the Arab party Balad. Cassif has compared Israel to Nazis and criticized Israel’s Law of Return, which automatically grants citizenship to Diaspora Jews who immigrate to Israel.

Balad declares itself “part of the Palestinian national movement” and rejects the idea of a Jewish State.  “We don’t support two states for two peoples. We support the establishment of a Palestinian state next to a state for all of its citizens,” Mtanes Shihadeh, who holds the top spot on Balad’s list, told The Times of Israel on February 2.

At a conference of the National Union of Israeli Students, Shaked sketched out her plan to “return the separation of powers” to their proper place in Israel’s political system. The plan includes changing the way judges are selected to the High Court. Shaked noted that in the vast majority of democracies, the country’s elected representatives choose the judges, as opposed to Israel, where the judges are self-selecting.

Shaked’s says the judicial selection process will be transparent. “The light of the sun is the greatest disenfectant,” she said. “The public has the right to know the legal worldview of a candidate to the High Court of Justice.”

The Justice Minister’s second proposal is to pass a Basic Law of legislation, which would define precisely the boundaries of the High Court’s authority.

Third, Shaked said Israel’s attorney general’s role has changed over the years from being strictly an adviser to someone who decides law. She said she will return law-making authority to its proper place and change the manner in which the attorney general is appointed.

Calls to reform Israel’s High Court has been made for some time. The right views it as activist, lacking judicial restraint and biased in favor of left-wing policies. Public trust in the High Court has dropped 16.5 percent in the last five years, according to the Israeli Democracy Institute, suggesting the wider public may be coming around to the political right’s point of view.

Some say this is due to the court’s interference in matters important to the public, such as illegal immigration, when it prevented the government from transferring thousands of African migrants from South Tel Aviv, a move popular with the public and the prevention of which may have damaged the court in the eyes of the public.

The court has also increasingly struck down laws.

Naftali Bennett, co-founder with Shaked of the New Right party, told The Times of Israel in late May, “The Supreme Court has basically turned itself into the sovereign, the highest authority on everything. That’s not what they’re supposed to do. They’re not supposed to govern. We’ve been elected. They have not.”