President Rivlin this evening (Thursday, 15 January 2015) addressed the swearing-in ceremony, at the President's Residence, for new President of the Supreme Court, Justice Miriam Naor, and the conclusion of the presidency of Justice Asher Grunis.
The President opened his remarks by saying, "The democratic system is a system with a body and soul, where one cannot exist without the other. One of the most important elements at the heart of democracy is trust. Public trust in the government systems and in particular in the organs of government: the legislative, executive, and judicial systems. Public trust is the essence of a democracy's strength or weakness, as it reflects the agreement between citizens, and between citizens and the government. An absence of public confidence in the public system is a death blow to democracy. It causes a lack of participation in the democratic process, and the erosion of the legitimacy of the government and its institutions."
The President added, "A democratic society is based primarily on the value of trust; it is built on progression and not revolutions. It is constructed through social processes, both explicit and implicit, which occur over time. A sound democratic regime is one that polishes and sharpens its path, by way of debate; by way of cooperation and dialogue, and while constantly checking and reviewing the boundaries and powers of all authorities involved in it. A democracy that has no constitution will always be lacking. In this reality the importance of the Supreme Court is reinforced; as the defender of minority rights, as well as majority rights, and addresses the plaintiffs equality before the law. However, it is exactly in this kind of democracy that it is important to formulate fundamental principles and constitutional traditions, through a process and by means of cross-fertilization, and mutual respect between the authorities, and through a fundamental, comprehensive, and constitutional discussion. It is important for us all to remember that if a sudden jolt undermines the process; and if exchanges and accusations replace balance and mutual restraint the only casualty is the Israeli democracy."
The President referred to the issue of a Basic Law on legislation and said, "Today, more than ever, I believe, a 'Basic Law on Legislation', is a necessity. Becasue, even if it does not provide us with a constitution, it will for the first time at least set out the rules of the game. The law will regulate the status of the Basic Laws; will ensure the judicial review, which in reality prevails today; and will allow new legislation of laws for a limited period that were not accepted in the judicial review, with a special majority. I believe that only through this Basic Law will we stop the attempts of the court to cross into the Knesset's jurisdiction. I believe that only through this law, can we guarantee that we will not find ourselves standing tomorrow or the day after, with the need to establish a constitutional court. After all, we all understand that the establishment of a political court for the constitution would not be the beginning of the end of Israeli democracy, but the end itself.
The President congratulated the outgoing Supreme Court President, Justice Asher Grunis, and thanked him for his work and leadership. He said, "My friend, the discretion, restraint and moderation which has characterized the years of your term as a Judge and your days as President of the Supreme Court, has brought some greatly anticipated calm to the Israeli ship of democracy. After many and painful years with highly publicized struggles between the Knesset and the Court, you have succeeded in restoring some stability to the relationship between the authorities. This is in no small way due to the humility by which you have led the Courts, and the honest respect you have given the legislature, its leader, and its spokesperson, while not detracting from the firm stand taken by the Supreme Court on human rights, civil rights and minorities, as well as the integrity of the public system. Your greatest strength, is expressed in the delicate navigation of the sensitive system of checks and balances between the authorities, and in finding the balance between them. The secret to achieving this balance is the true guarantee of democracy and the real guarantee of public trust. You have acted not only out of respect for public officials, but also out of respect for the public itself. The release of the bottleneck; shortening the duration of the procedures and improving service – these are the principles for which you fought, and struggled. Through these you strengthened the position and status of the Supreme Court, as a fort and protector of minorities' interests, as well for any who stand at its door, the Israeli hall of Justice.
"We were blessed with a President who was knowledgeable about the secret to maintaining the balance between authorities and as we are blessed with an incoming President who is also versed in this secret, we cannot forget the danger of an absence of regulation of the relations between the legislative and judicial branch. We have to consider that in the absence of a Basic Law on legislation we are facing a reality, whereby again and again the legislative branch and the judicial branch are at odds with each other. The 'Jewish-State Law' was the latest chapter in a series of these collisions; whereby the Knesset tried to ensure that the court will take preference of one aspect of the State of Israel over another; the Jewish and the democratic nature; the democratic and the Jewish nature. We see that in these cases the only victim is Israeli democracy."
The President also welcomed the incoming Supreme Court President, Justice Miriam Naor, "Today you enter one of the holiest of holies of Israeli democracy. Starting today you carry a huge responsibility on your shoulders, for the well-being, status and functioning of the Israeli legal system and the Supreme Court. Your name, as a judge in various courts, from the Magistrates' Court to the Supreme Court; your intelligence, dignity and abilities – have been recognized at home and from afar. The challenge laid before you is awesome and mighty. I have no doubt that you know to lead the Supreme Court and other courts with discretion and humility, and that you will know how to preserve both the body and soul of Israeli democracy. I hope that during your term will be found a formula that will define the boundaries of all the authorities, and I believe that the solution is already there. This will not only be a declarative achievement, but a vital achievement which will establish the defensive boundary of Israeli democracy, and establish public confidence in the entire government system in Israel."
In his address, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "A democracy that values life, must be strong, from inside and out. Therefore, we must continually reinforce the powers of the country's democratic authorities; primarily the legal system must be strong and independent. The Supreme Court is the pillar of democracy. Moreover, it is a beacon of justice and morality to rival any freedom-loving and law abiding state. It weaves together the Jewish and democratic principles, balancing our needs of sovereignty, also ensuring the Jewish character of the State of Israel and strict protection of human dignity and freedom. Just look at the harsh region around us. In so much of it, there is no room for differences of opinion, or disputes, or for the checks and balances which are the foundation of democracy. There, there is only one way of life, and one permitted truth, enforced by the sword. They long for the Middle Ages, while we choose the future. They have a legacy of tyranny and fanaticism, and we have a legacy of justice."
Outgoing Supreme Court President Grunis said, "In recent years, a bad habit has taken root whereby unsubstantiated criticism is made against judgments, as a tool for gaining political capital. Sometimes it is done while hurling personal insults at judges. Such conduct constitutes an attack on our democratic regime and affects public confidence in the judiciary. All judges act out of a sense of deep devotion. We judge any proceeding before us by our conscience, and according to the law. We find it difficult to defend ourselves against irrelevant criticism since as judges, in my view, we are supposed to speak only through court rulings."
Incoming Supreme Court President Naor said, "In my position as President of the Supreme Court I will act to guard the independence of the court system, the independence of which is a necessary condition for proper verdicts and bringing about justice. Israel can take pride in the fact that its judges are independent, and not pressured by anything but the law and truth. In fact, the public has an interest in real independence, even if the result of this procedure is not seen by part of the public. Knowing that any issue can be brought in front of independent judges brings many, including Knesset members from across the political spectrum, to appeal to the High Court of Justice."
Also in attendance were Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, head of the opposition MK Yitzhak Herzog, past and present Supreme Court justices, Governor of the Bank of Israel Dr. Karnit Flug, and members of the courts.
Photo Kobi Gideon GPO