Fern Reiss

The truth about Israel’s Supreme Court

Israel's justices are all secular left-wingers, right? Wrong. Starting with the fact that 10 of 15 were appointed under Netanyahu
Courtesy, Pixabay

Much of the hoopla about the inadequacies of our judicial system seem to revolve around the composition of the Supreme Court, which everyone seems convinced is composed of secular, leftie, anti-settler, Ashkenazim.

When those weighing in are just friends on Facebook, I gently correct about the makeup of Israel’s Supreme Court, fine. But when in a recent interview, someone as well-respected as former ambassador Michael Oren was heard perpetuating the same fake news, it’s time to set the record straight. Are there really so few valid points that pro-reformists can make that we need to resort to lies?

First, two points before we delve into the specifics of this falsity, that the Supreme Court is all secular lefty Ashkenazim chosen by their secular lefty Ashkenazi lawyer friends. Since several of the issues currently before the Knesset and the judiciary have to do with (Haredi) military service, it might be worth pointing out that the Israeli Supreme Court justices — with the exception of our one Muslim justice, who did not serve — have, per person, done significantly more army service than those of our Knesset coalition MKs: together, the justices served a cumulative 42 years in the IDF.

Second, although there is a lot of trash talk about how the left wing put all these justices in place, it should be noted that, by my count, 10 of the 15 justices — two thirds — were appointed under Prime Minister Netanyahu, four of them recently under the undeniably right-winger, Ayelet Shaked.

Finally, given that the internet is not always a reliable source of facts, particularly when it comes to people’s family backgrounds and political leanings, and surveys on numbers are not done every five minutes, it is possible that I have underestimated some of these ethnicities. Online information does not always reveal who lives on settlements, for example. These are minimum numbers; there may be more. I am hopeful that I got most of these details straight. I am confident I am closer than former ambassador Oren in his recent interview, who claimed there were no non-Ashkenazi justices on our Supreme Court, or maybe possibly one. Many folks also seem to think there are no religious justices, or no right wingers, or no settlers. But in fact, we have all of these.

Here’s the reality:

  • Settlers. 450,000 Israeli Jews now live in the West Bank, another 220,000 Jews in East Jerusalem, for a total of just under 700,000 West Bank settlers, 10% of the 7 million population of Jewish Israel. (Census Bureau of Statistics, December 31, 2022). So of 15 justices, 10% representation would be one-and-a-half. But we have three justices living in the West Bank, twice as many as there should be. Settlers are over-represented on the current Supreme Court.
  • Religious. 10% of Israel’s Jews identify as Haredi, and 12% as Dati, a total of 22% of the Jewish population. Of 15 justices, four are Dati (though none is Haredi, mostly because the Haredim generally lack the required education). Those who are religious are represented on the court almost directly in proportion to their population numbers.
  • Ethnicity. Sephardim make up 55% of Israeli Jews, but there are only three identifiable non-Ashkenazim, 20%, on the court (plus one Muslim). Another two justices have non-Ashkenazi spouses. So of all the disparagements leveled against the court, this is the only one that has any truth to it; there should be more Sephardi justices represented. (There are also only 40% women, which should be closer to 50%.)
  • Incidentally, according to online sources, two justices grew up in development towns.
  • At least six are considered to be right-wing.

And here’s the current list:

* Esther Hayut, president of the Supreme Court. She was born in Israel in 1953 and grew up in a ma’abara; her family were olim from Romania. Her husband is Iraqi. She served in the IDF from 1971 to 1973. (Appointed in 2004, under Sharon.)

* Uzi Vogelman. He was born in Israel in 1954; his family is from Holland. He served in the IDF Nahal combat brigade from 1972 to 1975. (Appointed in 2009 under Netanyahu.)

* Yitzhak Amit. He was born in Israel in 1958. He studied in a Zeitlin high school (religious yeshiva); and is religious. He served in the IDF 8200 from 1976 to 1980. (Appointed in 2009 under Netanyahu.)

* Noam Sohlberg. He was born in Israel in 1962. Dati Leumi, attended a Dati school and Yeshivat Har Etzion (religious), and lives in Alon Shvut. Considered conservative. (Appointed in 2012 under Netanyahu)

* Daphne Barak-Erez. She was born in the US and made aliyah in 1966. She served in the IDF as a legal officer from 1987 to 1990. (Appointed in 2012 under Netanyahu.)

* Anat Baron. She was born in Israel in 1953. She served in the IDF from 1971 to 1973. (Appointed 2015, under Netanyahu.)

* David Mintz. He was born in England in 1959 and made aliyah at age 11. He attended Midrashiyat Noam in Pardes Hanna (religious) and was in Hesder yeshiva in the Gush, serving in the IDF between 1977 to 1982 as an officer in the Armored Corps. He lives in the West Bank and is considered conservative. (Appointed 2017, under Netanyahu).

* Yosef Elron. He was born in Israel in 1955, the youngest of nine children. His parents are from Iraq. He served in the IDF 1973 to 1977. (Appointed under Netanyahu.)

* Yael Willner. She was born in Israel in 1959. She attended Horev High School in Jerusalem (religious). She did national service in Kiryat Shmona in 1978. She is active in Gush Emunim. (Appointed in 2017 under Netanyahu.)

* Ofer Grosskopf. He was born in Israel in 1969. He served as an officer in the IDF from 1991 to 1997, first as a legal advisor and then as legal counsel. (Appointed in 2018 under Netanyahu).

* Alex Stein. He was born in Kishinev, USSR in 1957 and made aliyah in 1973. He served in the IDF in Litani and Peace for Galilee and as a legal officer in Gaza. Considered conservative. (Appointed in 2018 under Netanyahu.)

* Gila Canfy-Steinitz. She was born in Israel in 1962; her parents are Moroccan. She served in the IDF from 1977 to 1979. She is married to Yuval Steinitz, prominent Likud member and minister in almost all the Netanyahu governments. She is the Supreme Court’s first female Mizrahi justice. She is viewed as conservative. (Appointed in 2022, under Saar/Bennett).

* Haled Kabub. He was born in Israel in 1958. He is Israeli-Arab and Muslim (the only one on the bench, even though Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population. (Appointed in 2022 under Sa’ar/Bennett.)

* Yehiel Kasher. He was born in Israel in 1961. He served in the IDF from 1979 to 1982. He is deemed conservative. (Appointed in 2022 under Sa’ar/Bennett.)

* Ruth Ronnen. She was born in Israel in 1962. She served in the IDF from 1980 to 1982. (Appointed in 2022 by Sa’ar/Bennett.)

Of the two Supreme Court registrars, by the way, one grew up in Dimona; the other is religious. Both served in the IDF.

The court will change this year: four seats will open up, starting with that of Chief Justice Esther Hayut, because of retirement.

The current Supreme Court, in fact, has a composition not dissimilar from that of the population, with more than its fair share of religious and settlers, although not enough Sephardim or Arabs.

And if 10 of the 15 justices are religious, settlers, Sephardi, and/or conservative, then surely they can appoint justices of their own background, without us having to restructure the courts or the judicial committee, in other, more invasive, ways.

If we’re going to argue politics, let’s at least argue from a position of truths, not lies.

About the Author
Fern Reiss runs
Related Topics
Related Posts