Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch went on the offensive Thursday, claiming that politicians are running a campaign to weaken the legal system and the Supreme Court.
Beinisch's words were a response to the recent approval of several political bills in the Knesset that aim to limit the Supreme Court's power. One such proposed bill submitted to the Knesset Constitution Committee would enable the Knesset to conduct in-depth probes of Supreme Court candidates.
Another proposal, the "Grunis Bill," named after Supreme Court Justice Asher Dan Grunis and sponsored by MK Yaakov (Katzeleh) Katz (National Union), would allow judges like Grunis, who is popular among right-wing politicians, to assume the role of Supreme Court president even if they have fewer than two years to serve their term on the bench.
Grunis is 67, and if he takes over from Beinisch in February, will have less than three years before he hits the mandatory retirement age for a Supreme Court President, which is 70.
Speaking at a conference of the Israeli Association of Public Law at the Dead Sea on Thursday, Beinisch, who is set to retire at the end of February 2012, said, "A campaign to weaken the legal system and the Supreme Court is being waged each year with increasing intensity. It is a campaign of delegitimization headed by politicians, members of Knesset, and even, so I heard, a minister.
"They are taking advantage of their immunity and feeding the public disinformation - an act that eventually turned into incitement against the Supreme Court. Afterward, like the Cossack who was robbed, they loudly declare that the public does not have faith in the legal system."
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She added, "The nature of a campaign of deceit is to spread and poison. This is what propaganda does. And this campaign is openly inciting against the Supreme Court and its judges. The writing was on the wall, the warnings were given, but no one got up to do anything about it."
Beinisch also did not mince words when it came to her hometown's negative image. The Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia, an upscale neighborhood where both she and her predecessor Aharon Barak reside, has been subjected to a barrage of criticism in recent years.
"A new shameful word has appeared in the last decade: 'Rehavia.' Someone created a populist gimmick one day claiming that Rehavia was a place where rich people who are not in touch with the public live, and today Rehavia is falsely presented as the fortress of the Left. Supreme Court judges were not raised on noble estates. They arose from among their nation and a variety of social echelons. Why, if so, should they be stigmatized and incited against? This propaganda has turned the term 'professional elite' into an indecent term."
Concerning the recent slew of legal proposals in the Knesset, Beinisch said, "The proposals, for the most part, are not aimed at the Supreme Court, but rather at limiting minority rights, weakening human rights organizations, and weakening those who are most discriminated against, including women and the impoverished. We are talking about a struggle over the image of Israel as a Jewish democratic state."
Beinisch said that despite the latest events, she was happy to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu express his support for the legal system.
At the end of her speech, Beinisch earned rousing applause. "This was a ground-breaking speech," Eliyahu Matza, a retired Supreme Court judge, said.
Members of the coalition, though, were fuming when Beinisch finished speaking. Coalition head MK Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), who is one of the sponsors of a proposal to require public hearings for judges before they are appointed, said, "Beinisch revealed a basic lack of understanding of democracy. Her words constitute a clear example of unrestrained incitement against the Knesset."
In response to reporter's question, Beinisch said that National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, both of Yisrael Beitenu, were among the ministers who have spoken out against the Supreme Court. Neither chose to comment.
MK Yariv Levin (Likud), chairman of the Knesset House Committee, said "The attempt by Beinisch to silence the criticism, and deter those who criticize, will fail."
Meanwhile, in a surprise move, Beinisch suggested to former Attorney General Manny Mazuz that he add his name to the list of candidates for the Supreme Court, and Mazuz accepted the suggestion.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman - who was said not to support Mazuz for a position on the Supreme Court - finalized the list on Thursday, which includes 15 candidates.
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