By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s top judge said on Thursday that its new right-wing justice minister was putting the country on a course towards anarchy by suggesting that not all court rulings must be obeyed when security is at stake.
The Supreme Court has been in the crosshairs of members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government. They accuse it of a liberal tilt and excessive intervention in legislative matters.
With a new election scheduled for September, after Netanyahu failed to form a government following the previous poll in April, debate over the powers of the country’s highest court has been gaining speed.
The justice minister, Amir Ohana, raised Chief Justice Esther Hayut’s ire after he did not disavow, in a television interview on his inauguration on Wednesday, past comments in which he said it was permissible to disobey Supreme Court rulings if they endangered lives.
Asked if he still stood by those remarks, he cited a case in which the Supreme Court blocked the military’s demolition of Palestinian dwellings in Gaza that later provided cover for militants who shot and killed an Israeli woman and her four children on a road leading to a Jewish settlement bloc in 2004.
In a speech to jurists distributed by the national court system’s spokesman, Hayut said she took a grave view of what she called Ohana’s “unprecedented and irresponsible” legal viewpoint.
“In other words, anyone, with the justice minister’s blessing, can decide which ruling to observe and which to disobey,” she said. “I want to say only one thing: this is the short road to anarchy.”
Ohana took over from another outspoken critic of the Supreme Court, Ayelet Shaked, after Netanyahu dismissed the far-right rival politician from his cabinet ahead of the coming election.
On Facebook, Ohana said that after watching his taped interview with Channel 12 TV, he wanted to stress that “court decisions must be respected” but the Gaza-related case was an extreme example of how human life outweighed “any other value”.
Ohana, a lawyer and a Netanyahu loyalist in the prime minister’s right-wing Likud party, has voiced support for legislation that would enable parliament to overturn the Supreme Court’s quashing of laws or other measures that justices rule illegal.
Such parliamentary power could be crucial in ensuring that immunity from prosecution, which some legislators have proposed the Knesset grant Netanyahu in three corruption cases, cannot be nullified in court.
At a pre-trial hearing in October, lawyers for Netanyahu will try to dissuade Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit from filing fraud and bribery charges against him. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
(Editing by Frances Kerry)