Yesterday, the State of Israel became the first western state whose High Court ruled that some citizens have fewer fundamental rights than other citizens based on their ethnicity. Actually, it had done so before, but yesterday it rejected the most sustained challenge to the “Citizenship Law,” which bars the non-Israeli spouses of Israeli Palestinians from becoming citizens. So while an Israeli Jew from Brooklyn has the right of marrying anybody she likes, and having her spouse naturalized, a native Palestinian Israeli citizen cannot marry a distant relative who lives in a town five minutes from her house – unless that relative was a Palestinian collaborator, working for the Israelis, and then, only by special approval of the Minister of Interior.
Haaretz’s English version, shortened and summarized for now, doesn’t do justice to the original article. But it will give you the basic facts. What it doesn’t tell you is that the decision was a split one, 6-5, and that the some of the minority judges were either retired or soon-to-retired. Four new judges are coming on board, one of them the rightwing settler judge, Noam Sohlberg, notorious for acquiting a Border policeman who killed an innocent Palestinian when fleeing. (The soldier said he felt “threatened”; Sohlberg accepted the argument, after he recognized that the victim was innocent and that a “terrible mistake” had been made.) The conservative Asher Grunis is a candidate to replace Dorit Beinisch. Unlike the American system, supreme court justices are selected by a Judicial Appointment Committee, composed of legal experts and politicians. The four candidates recently selected reflected an ideological compromise. But there is no question that this is, and will be, a predominantly conservative court. Justices have mandatory retirement at 70, but as long as the right are in power, the court will be, in matters of human rights and “national security,” predictably rightwing.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but, as the brilliantly funny Israeli journalist B. Michael wrote yesterday, it will have beneficial effects – for the world should know the true face of Israeli “democracy,” and that in almost all cases having to do with Palestinians, the occupation of the court is to support the occupation. Now it will do so without the facade of an Aharon Barak or a Dorit Beinisch.. As Michael writes.
And the State of Israel no longer deserves a Supreme Court without Sohlberg. It deserves a court in its own image. Someone "representative," as the MK Zeev Elkin types are loudly demanding. We should do as they wish. Because from now on, the court really is far more representative of the State of Israel. It suits the state far better.
And Sohlberg - along with his rulings and the land on which he lives (which on June 5, 1969, was seized for "military purposes" ) - will also make it somewhat more difficult for the High Court of Justice to continue to boast of statesmanlike behavior and to hide behind judicial robes, as it seeks to free itself of the threat of intervention from a foreign court.
And all of that is good and right and worthy, because evil - just like justice - must be seen, not just done.