Petition signatory Yoram Kaniuk
Petition signatory Yoram Kaniuk Israel news photo: Flash 90

68 Israelis, some of them self-styled intellectuals but also including 22 who are either Nobel Prize laureates or Israel Prize recipients, signed a petition Sunday in which they call on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to freeze the legislation regarding the Supreme Court.

The petition reads, “Before the man whose government and coalition are busy destroying democracy there is a clear choice: Either allow the current wave (of legislation) to continue and become the destruction of democracy and law in Israel or stop it immediately. He should stop it and announce that, at least until the end of the Knesset’s winter session, the legislation regarding the courts, the media and civil society organizations in Israel will be frozen.”

The signatories, who are identified with the left and some with the radical left end of the political spectrum, are petitioning recently approved legislation that would enable the appointment of judges of varied judicial outlooks to the Supreme Court – a fact which has caused great discomfort to the left.

Since the present makeup of the judicial selection committee leads to the fact that presiding judges effectively choose new justices, the court has for years blocked selection of judges with views differing from its own, such as internationally renowned Prof. Ruth Gavison who is against former Chief Justice Aharon Barak's controversial principle of "judiciability". The judges are now attempting to prevent the selection of Judge Noam Solberg to the Supreme Court because he lives in Alon Shvut in Judea - and the court actually admits to that line of reasoning.

In the United States, where the Senate, whose control changes with election results, vetts candidates for the Supreme Court, the court, as a result, reflects a variety of outlooks on judiciability and other issues. Leftists and mainstream media in Israel call that "politicizing" the courts, ignoring the fact that the court's decisions have for years reflected the same particular political and judicial outlook.

The bills call for the automatic appointment of the Bar Association president to the Judge Selection Committee, and also allow the appointment of a Supreme Court Chief Justice with only two years remaining until retirement, hitherto not allowed.

The first bill would enable the right leaning and recently elected Bar Association president to be a member of the Judicial Selection Committee. This was always automatically the case without it being written as law or by-law until the new president was elected, when in a quick move (including a deal with the hareidi lawyers in the association)  before the incumbent could organize his supporters, those in control of blocks of votes of the Bar Association pushed through the selection of representatives, bypassing the new president.

The second bill means that Justice Asher Grunis, who has leftist views but is against the activist "everything is judiciable" Supreme Court policy initiated by former Chief Justice Aharon Barak, could be appointed to serve as the next president instead of toe-the-line Justice Miriam Naor, even though he is slated to retire in two years.

A third bill seeking to institute the concept of locus standi – legal standing – in Israel’s courts, was killed in a ministerial committee after Netanyahu expressed his opposition to the bills and vowed to protect the court. This would have prevented organizations such as Peace Now and Yesh Din from filings suits on land ownership in Judea and Samaria, as they do constantly, without alleged landowners taking part in the suits and sometimes without even knowing of any such claims. A suggested bill to have a Knesset committee vett the candidates was also dropped when Netanyahu expressed his opposition.

Some of the signatories to the petition include Sefi Rechelvsky, Prof. Yehuda Bauer, Prof. Ze’ev Shternhal who suggested that terrorists attack settlers and not other Israelis, and radical left authors Amos Oz and Yoram Kaniuk.

Polls show that the Israeli public's faith in the court system has reached a new low. Justice Barak, during his term as Chief Justice, was known for saying that the "enlightened" must set policy for the people through the courts.