Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem
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The High Court is not representative? Look in the mirror

This government has no non-Jews and few women. One thing it does have is the power to make diverse judicial appointments
Members of the new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a group photo at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Members of the new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a group photo at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One of the excuses the government is using for changing the method of selection for the High Court is that the Court is not representative of the population.

It does seem a little hypocritical. The government making the claim includes not one non-Jew, despite the fact that they represent about a quarter of the population, and only 8 out of 64 government members are women. Just 6 of 32 ministers are women. The coalition includes two parties that exclude women entirely and at least four that exclude non-Jews.

The representativeness of the High Court is significantly better than what we see in the government, yet the government claims it wants to repair the former. If the government were serious about the importance of representativeness, surely they could begin in their own appointments.

The Times of Israel reported last month that just one woman and thirty men had been appointed by Ministers in the government to head their government department. There is no Arab Israeli heading a government department.

When it comes to the judiciary, there are too few Arab judges in the system (only 8% of the total). Mizrahim and women are also under-represented. But it is nowhere near as drastic as in our current government.

For women, the court system represents a beacon of hope. The first woman judge was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1977 (Miriam Ben Porat), but since then the number of women judges has increased steadily to about a third of the Court.

It is a little less positive for Arab Israelis but at least the direction has been positive. Although Arab judges are well represented in the peace and district courts, the first Arab was appointed as a temporary Supreme Court justice only in 2000, and after his one-year term, another Israeli Arab was appointed as a temporary appointment. In 2004, he gained a permanent seat.

May 2004 was a turning point. Four new judges were selected for the Supreme Court – two women, an Arab and an Orthodox Jew.

In 2012, the four new Supreme Court justices appointed included an Iraqi-born Mizrahi Jew, a West Bank settler and a female member of the Tel Aviv University law faculty.

Just over a year ago, then Justice Minister, Gidon Sa’ar, announced that the Judicial Appointments Committee had appointed four new Supreme Court justices, among them the court’s first Muslim and first Mizrahi woman.

Sa’ar said his criteria were “excellence, balance and diversity. A variety of opinions, genders and ethnic backgrounds.” He managed to achieve this without changing the system of appointment.  The previous Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, said that she would have made different appointments but that she understood the criterion of diversity that Sa’ar applied.

In other words, it is a myth that the current appointment system is an obstacle to diversity. If the Minister is committed to it, he can and will redress any imbalances that currently exist.

But that is not Levin’s agenda.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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