Supreme Court Justice Zvi Zilbertal in March announced his early retirement, after four years on the job. He is only due to leave in 2022. His circle told the media that Zilbertal feels that he’s done, he has exhausted whatever the highest job for lawyers in the land has to offer, so he’s leaving. Also, he’ll turn 65 in April, 2017, so that’s when he’d like to go home, thank you very much.
A supreme court judge’s term normally ends when he or she reaches age 70.
It is now expected that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), Chief Justice Miriam Naor and her heiress apparent Justice Esther Hayut will begin negotiations to pick Zilbertal’s replacement. But three more spots are being vacated in 2017: Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Salim Jubran, and the president, Miriam Naor. Justice Uri Shoham will retire in 2018. If Minister Shaked holds on to her seat for the duration of the 20th Knesset, and if the fragile but determined Netanyahu government stays on for the full four years awarded by the voter, then Ayelet Shaked will have a hand in deciding the next five Supreme court justices — out of 15 altogether.
The left is both frightened and furious at the prospect of Shaked being involved in potentially picking a third of the new court. It could mean the end of the left’s governing Israel without a mandate, through the most activist court in the history of modern, Western democracies. Shaked’s speech this week, before a conference of the Israeli Bar Association, spelled out just how unhappy she is with a supreme court that grabs the power to legislate, as it has done most recently over the government’s contract with two major investors who were looking to exploit Israel’s off-shore natural gas deposits.
Shaked accused the high court justices of essentially appointing themselves members of Knesset, and in this new role joining the opposition forces to kill the coalition’s signed deal. She made certain everyone present, and that included absolutely everyone connected to the judiciary — judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys — that the court has gone astray, that in its hunger for power it has gobbled up the authority of the legislator to pass laws by a majority of the representatives of the people, and of government’s authority to govern. She called the court irresponsible, for decisions that end up costing the state billions, without a care in the world as to what segment of the population would have to go without in order to satisfy their sense of justice.
She was brilliant, frankly, and courageous beyond words, because in Israel any government minister who messes with the prosecution or the courts sooner or later finds herself or himself in a police interrogation room, answering questions about anonymous allegations against them. It happened to several justice ministers, it happened to prime ministers, it’s the way the old Ashkenazi oligarchy maintains its hold on the system without a mandate from the people. How Shaked is doing it, we have no idea. She was warned, in her own words, before taking the Justice portfolio, that she would be stirring a major hornet’s nest, but she did it anyway. And she’s been an activist justice minister, which is a quality to be cherished, unlike an activist judge.
The left is furious not only with Shaked, whom they’ve already branded enemy of Israel’s democracy (their democracy, that is) — they’re upset with Justice Zvi Zilbertal for abandoning his post. Naomi Levitsky on Thursday wrote in Ha’aretz: “The hardest blow came down on the high court from one of their own. At such a difficult period, in an inconceivable move, Justice Zvi Zilbertal all of a sudden announced that he is retiring five years before the end of his term. Meaning he’s had enough. Why? Too much work. Come on…”
According to Levitsky, the entire supreme court has been pleading with Zilbertal to stay on. Especially the next chief, Hayut, who was expecting him to be her wingman. Levitsky describes Hayut in a way that discloses her expectations of her tenure at the court’s helm: “An experienced, opinionated and charismatic judge … like Chief Justices Meir Shamgar, Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinisch.”
Not gonna’ happen, thank God. The next five justices will be conservative, at least one of them will be religious, and all of them can be expected to have a true judicial temperament — reluctant to void the rulings of lower courts and careful not to intervene in legislation, unless the appellant can show personal damage as a result of said legislation, which is no longer a prerequisite in Israel’s reckless, invasive, imperialist high court.
The truth is we want Ayelet Shaked to be Israel’s prime minister, a job she would fulfill with skill and wisdom. But before she gets there, we really want to see her doing away with the dreadful legacy of Chief Justice Aharon Barak, father of Israel’s new oligarchy.