Three conservatives – one a settler – and Arab-Israeli to sit in 15-member court in move seen as victory for Ayelet Shaked
Israel has appointed three new conservative judges, including a settler, to its 15-member supreme court, in what is being painted as a victory for Israel’s rightwing justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, in her campaign to alter the political composition of the court.
The supreme court has long been seen by rightwingers as too liberal and not sufficiently representative of the religious right and settler movement in particular.
The moves announced by the court late on Wednesday mark the latest effort by the right and hard right to transform Israeli institutions regarded as too leftwing or elitist, from the arts to the police service.
A fourth new judge, George Kara, is an Arab-Israeli known for convicting the former president Moshe Katsav of rape.
Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of the daily paper Haaretz, said in a front-page article it was the most important victory yet for the coalition government led by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The appointment of four new justices to the supreme court is the most important achievement in the political and social revolution being pursued by Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government,” he wrote. “Justice minister Ayelet Shaked promised to fundamentally alter the character of the judicial branch in Israel, and yesterday she took a major step towards fulfilling that promise, one that will impact court rulings and Israeli democracy for many years to come.”
Shaked described the change as “historic”, making clear in interviews that she had pushed the candidacy of the three as much for ideological reasons as for their judicial experience.
“When we chose these judges, we knew what their judicial worldview was, and I’m not talking about right or left but about activism versus conservatism,” she told Yedioth Ahronoth. “That was the goal, to promote conservative judges, and that goal was accomplished.”
Shaked made clear she had pushed the candidacy of the judges as part of a wider effort to push back judicial oversight of political decisions, including an outpost legalisation bill expected to come before the court.
“Certainly, reducing the supreme court’s interference with political decisions is something I’m promoting and will continue to promote,” she said. “Political decisions should be left to the government and the Knesset. They were the ones chosen by the people; they are the authority for it.”
The new judges include David Mintz, who lives in a West Bank settlement, Yael Vilner, who is Orthodox, and Yosef Elron, considered to be conservative and tough against migrants seeking Israeli residency.
Shaked had threatened to change a law that would have weakened the justices’ influence in the committee unless it agreed to name more conservative justices.
Yedidya Stern, a law professor and vice-president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a research centre aimed at strengthening the foundations of Israeli democracy, said the four appointees were “good and efficient judges”.
But he said the big question was “whether the supreme court, with these people, will continue to be a bulwark” against anti-democratic elements in Israeli society. “In the absence of a written constitution, conservatism can be manifested in a weakening in the defence of human rights and minorities,” Stern said on Army Radio.