Israel Supreme Court justice warns government against ‘blatant and unprecedented’ attack on judiciary

Israel Supreme Court justice warns government against ‘blatant and unprecedented’ attack on judiciary

Israel Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut at a swearing-in ceremony for 18 newly appointed judges at the president’s residence on Monday expressed serious concerns [inaugural address, in Hebrew] about a bill approved on Sunday by the Knesset‘s [official website, in Hebrew] Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which she termed a “blatant and unprecedented attack” on the nation’s judiciary.

Hayut stated that the bill effectively gutted the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty [text], enacted by the Knesset approximately 25 years ago.

Hayut particularly criticized the “separation wall” being built by the government between the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of the government stating that this contradicts any accepted perception anywhere in the reformed democratic world of the relationship that should exist between the three branches of government.

In elaborating on the principle of separation of powers and the system of checks and balances inherent therein, Hayut noted the delicate and fragile nature of such a system whereby the “government has excess power vis-a-vis the Knesset” and highlighted the role of the judiciary as authorized interpreters of the law that conduct judicial review of the actions of the other branches of government.

Referencing the US and Canadian constitutions during her address, Hayut added:

Yesterday, as stated, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided that the Government of Israel would support a private bill that states that when the Knesset legislates a law that unlawfully violates any of the rights enshrined in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, such a law may remain in force despite the violation … It is mistaken for those who believe that the cessation clause “overcomes” the court. In fact, this is a matter of overcoming the human rights of every individual in Israeli society, and of granting the Knesset, with the government’s support, the right to legislate without hindrance laws that violate human rights. … Therefore, the main issue on the agenda is not the issue of the status and powers of the Supreme Court, which is also an issue that should not be underestimated. The main issue is the emptying of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty of all content. … This [bill’s] very enactment will stain the Israeli constitutional enterprise that has not yet been completed, create constitutional chaos and turn the constitutional protection granted to human rights in Israel under the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty into an empty tool. It is therefore a bad proposal, dangerous and harmful.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked criticized [JP report] Hayut’s address stating: “I hate to disappoint the eulogized, but go outside, look around. Israeli democracy is alive, breathing and kicking, and stronger than any of its critics. And believe me, it can handle different opinions and ideas. The influx of announcements about the death of democracy is completely absurd.” Others, such as Member of Knesset Nachman Shai, voiced support for Hayut adding: “The Supreme Court is aware of its limitations and has always been careful in canceling laws. The pile-on initiated by the Right [wing] against one of the symbols of Israeli democracy undermines the Jewish and democratic foundations of the State of Israel.