Israel’s political crisis attacked by Gantz, Rivlin and Hayut

Written by on January 26, 2021

The crisis in Israeli politics was attacked on Tuesday by President Reuven Rivlin, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz at the largest ever swearing in ceremony of judges in Israel.

Both Rivlin and Hayut attributed the fact that, prior to December of last year, there had been no new appointments of judges for almost two years, to the political situation which precluded the convening of the Judicial Appointments Committee.

As a result, when the committee was finally able to convene, 18 new judges and court registrars were appointed in December, and 54 more on Tuesday.

Rivlin in particular lashed out at the political crisis which has brought about four Knesset elections in two years.  All three speakers emphasized that such a situation is without precedent.

They were also united in condemning political interference in the justice system and attempts by political elements to delegitimize the courts.

Rivlin said that in recent years, blatant criticism of the justice system bordered on illegitimacy, sometimes crossed redlines, and infused tension between the professional echelons  of the civil service and the political administration.

Proclaiming himself as favoring clear borders that define each branch of the state’s institutions from the other, Rivlin warned of the dangers that could erupt when one branch trespasses into the domain of another. The victims of these tensions, he said, are the citizens of Israel.

Without mentioning the name of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all three speakers hinted that he was the underlying cause of political, social and economic unrest. Politics must not be allowed to intrude on justice and law enforcement, Rivlin insisted.

In reviewing the damage that has been done to the justice system, the president told the new judges that they must do all in their power to win back public confidence while ensuring that the justice system remains independent.

Hayut spoke of repeated attempts to force the justice system into the political arena and was adamant that there is no room for dragging the justice system into politics. “The role of the judge is to deal with legal issues,” she declared, adding that the court must remain independent of political influence, “even though politicians see this in a different light,” a reference to political criticism from across the board when politicians are dissatisfied with court decisions.

Gantz said that in this time of the pandemic, it is more important than ever for judges to be fair in treating people from all backgrounds equally.  The public also needs an administration that protects civil rights, he said.

This is not just a period of health, economic and social crisis, Gantz said, but one of political crisis such as Israeli has never known before, where the lines between legitimate criticism and lies and incitement become blurred.

The situation is also a threat to democracy, he said, citing a survey taken last week estimating that more than half of Israel’s population believes that democracy is in danger.

He remarked that Israel is one of the few democracies in the world that does not have a constitution but has to rely on Basic Law.

Underscoring the importance of the rule of law in a democracy, Gantz said that he was proud to live in a country in which justice is still meted out in the court and not in the town square.

In attacking the administrative system while simultaneously defending the independence and integrity of the courts, Gantz quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy, the source of the pledge of every judge in Israel.

He laid particular emphasis on the line pertaining to the pursuit of justice, and a line in the preceding verse that states “You shall not take a bribe.”

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