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Israel's newest Supreme Court justice and rule of law in Israel

Menachem ‘Meni’ Mazuz’s recent appointment to the Supreme Court reveals, yet again, that the borders of the rule of law lie only with those who are considered part of the ‘Jewish nation,’ not all of Israel’s citizens.

By Salah Mohsen

The appointment of Menachem “Meni” Mazuz to the Israeli Supreme Court did not raise any debate within the Israeli public. If this was a truly democratic society, which emphasizes the importance of respecting the opinions and status of its national minority, this appointment would never have been made at all.

There are many reasons why Meni Mazuz should not have been accepted into the Supreme Court. The most important of these is that Mazuz, in his capacity as attorney general, was the person who decided in January 2008 to close the investigation files into the killing of 13 young Palestinian citizens of Israel by the police during the October 2000 events. Mazuz made this decision despite the strong and clear recommendations of the State Commission of Inquiry, headed by former justice Theodor Or, which stated that some of the cases held enough evidence to indict the officers responsible, while other cases warranted further investigation.

Menachem "Meni" Mazuz, Israeli Supreme Court justice. (Photo: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Menachem “Meni” Mazuz, Israeli Supreme Court justice. (Photo: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The timing of the appointment of Mazuz to the Supreme Court – just two weeks before Palestinian citizens mark the 14th anniversary of the October 2000 killings – is indicative of the contempt towards Israel’s Palestinian minority, and adds to their growing feelings of frustration and anger. A week after Mazuz’s decision in 2008 to close the investigation files into the October 2000 killings, Palestinian citizens organized the largest demonstrations since “Land Day” in 1976.

Mazuz is not the only person responsible for the failure of the October 2000 investigations to then be promoted to higher positions in Israeli institutions. For example, another current Supreme Court Justice, Elyakim Rubinstein, served as attorney general at the time of the killings and did not fulfill his duty to advance investigations into the events. Other individuals responsible include Shai Nitzan, the deputy attorney general who headed the sub-committee that recommended the closure of the files, who was promoted to state prosecutor; and Benzi Sau, the police commander of the Wadi ‘Ara region, who faced wide criticism for his use of snipers that killed three of the 13 Palestinian victims, yet was promoted to the post of police commander in the Tel Aviv region.

In addition to his role in the closure of the October 2000 files, Mazuz helped draft, approve and defend many discriminatory laws that were enacted or proposed by the Knesset, some of which were blatantly targeted or racist against Palestinian citizens, and were deliberately aimed at undermining their rights. For example, in 2003 Mazuz promoted the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which prevents the family unification of tens of thousands of Palestinian families if one of the spouses or their children is from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The law was approved twice by the Supreme Court, both in 5-4 rulings, despite harsh criticisms from human rights organizations and the four minority justices. This law directly discriminates against Palestinian citizens and violates their basic right to family life. The law is also an attack on the fundamental right to citizenship for Palestinians in Israel, which should be inalienable in any self-proclaimed democracy. The approval of this legislation, of which Mazuz was a crucial part, helped to pave the wave for further discriminatory and harmful laws to be enacted.

Furthermore, in 2007, Mazuz approved the proposal of the Admissions Committees Law, which effectively prevents Palestinian citizens from living in 434 small communities on Israeli state lands, giving the green light for the practice of segregation in housing that already exists in practice between Palestinian and Jewish citizens of the state. Ignoring the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2000 Ka’adan case, which sparked a public debate on the exclusive control of state lands by Jewish citizens, Mazuz helped the new law circumvent the court’s ruling. The Admissions Committees Law was recently upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling, despite criticism against it. The verdict on the case was issued just two weeks after the court rejected a request to appeal by the 1,000 Arab Bedouin residents of Atir and Umm el-Hieran, two unrecognized villages in the Naqab/Negev, against the government’s plans to demolish their homes in order to build a Jewish town called “Hiran” over their ruins. The court rejected the residents’ request, claiming that there was “no public interest” in their case. Apparently, the fate of a thousand Bedouin citizens of Israel, who have lived in a village established by the state since 1956, is of no interest to the government, the public or even the Supreme Court.

The series of decisions made by Mazuz as attorney general was not the result of careful legal and professional considerations, but was a reflection of his worldview that greatly influenced his decisions in relation to Palestinian citizens. The absence of public debate over the appointment of Mazuz illustrates an important lesson about the notion of the rule of law in Israeli society. Many have praised the courage of Mazuz in filing charges against a former prime minister and other government officials, but have completely ignored the absence of such courage regarding the October 2000 killings, despite the strong recommendations of the Or Commission. Mazuz’s appointment to the Supreme Court thus reveals, yet again, that the borders of the rule of law lie only with those who are considered part of the “Jewish nation,” not all of Israel’s citizens.

Salah Mohsen is the media director at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. This article first appeared in Hebrew on Walla.

Related:
Contradicting its own ruling, Israel’s Supreme Court legalizes segregated communities
For Arab citizens, Israeli government suffers from split personality
PHOTOS: A decade on, Citizenship Law still denies Palestinians their rights

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    1. bir

      “We disagree with Mazuz and his legal experience and history, not to mention that of other Israeli AGs and High Court rulings, therefore Israel isn’t democratic and doesn’t care about Israeli Arabs. Love, Adalah.”

      Perhaps you can cut out the hyperbole and simply explain why you disagree with his nomination for the court? You think he made mistakes? Fair enough. You think he demonstrated bias? Okay, that is your right. You believe someone who made decisions against which your organization fought shouldn’t get to Israel’s highest court? Great. Say so loud and clear – that’s the beauty of living in Israel and its democracy!

      The problem is that you’ve depicted the situation as if it’s undemocratic and somehow directed against Israeli Arabs, neither of which is true. Imagine if Eric Holder was nominated and voted into the US Supreme Court and Ferguson police wrote an op-ed declaring the US to be undemocratic and hostile to cops and Southern whites because of the appointment?

      That’s right, the assertion would be ridiculous and perceived as such.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        You’re of course completely right, apart from Eric Holder never supporting openly discriminatory and racist laws.

        In other words: you’re wrong in everything you’re saying.

        Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        A law that makes it impossible for Israelis to unite their families when they are married to Palestinians, which in more than 95% is the case for Israeli Arabs, but at the same time puts no limitations whatsoever on the families and spouses of Israelis married to citizens of ANY other territory in the world, is of course NOT discriminatory against Israeli Arabs…

        Who would even say such a ridiculous thing? Seriously!

        Reply to Comment
        • bir

          I’ll bet you didn’t know that over 100,000 Palestinian Arabs were permitted to move into Israel prior to that law’s enactment for purposes of marriage and family reunification. That’s right, a hundred thousand. The law was so generous that in contrast with Palestinian Arab culture, many male spouses moved to live with their wives instead of the other way around.

          Sadly, some of these new arrivals to Israel became involved in terror attacks during the Palestinian war on Israel, so the Israelis created a law to stop their movement into Israel. I know, you want to ignore the terror attacks and focus on the “discrimination.”

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      “The most important of these is that Mazuz, in his capacity as attorney general, was the person who decided in January 2008 to close the investigation files into the killing of 13 young Palestinian citizens of Israel by the police during the October 2000 events. Mazuz made this decision despite the strong and clear recommendations of the State Commission of Inquiry, headed by former justice Theodor Or, which stated that some of the cases held enough evidence to indict the officers responsible, while other cases warranted further investigation.”

      Reply to Comment
      • bir

        Yeah, thank you Adalah for your biased point of view, at least you’ve convinced Bruce Gould.

        Here’s another take.

        From Ha’aretz:

        “In his official report, Mazuz said that in addition to many evidentiary problems that stem from the long period of time that has passed since the incident, “we had to take into consideration the fact that the incident involved the use of operational judgment in an emergency situation, under circumstances that don’t justify the casting of criminal blame, as opposed to the taking of command procedures.”

        Mazuz added to the document he released a report written by the state prosecution team, headed by Assistant State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, which details over 500 pages the evidence gathered in the case and the difficulties that arose over the course of the investigation. The team, which included five attorneys, dedicated its efforts over thousands of hours to the examination of evidence and reports compiled by the Or Commission, which was appointed to investigate the riots. Dozens of meetings were held, some attended by the attorney general.

        The release of the official ruling on the proceedings in the case was delayed by approximately one year, after the The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which is considered a complainant in the matter, submitted a report in late 2006 to the State Prosecution in which it claimed that PID has ignored the recommendations of the Or Commission by failing to investigate the deaths. The report called for the immediate prosecution of the officers involved.

        Mazuz said Sunday that the official document he wrote includes specific responses to the claims raised by Adalah in the 2006 report.”

        Reply to Comment
    3. Average American

      Regarding the admissions committee law, isn’t a Rabbi one of the members of each committee? Does this suggest a halaka system of law rather than an objective secular system of law? Does this further suggest that Mazuz is moving the supreme court to a halaka system of law?

      Reply to Comment
    4. phil

      @ Bir

      Facts wrong again..

      “Senior officials from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice who testified before the Knesset Committee stated that since 1993, 100,000-140,000 Palestinians have been granted official status in Israel following family unification. In response to inquiries by Knesset Committee members, these officials later revised these figures, admitting that only 22,414 requests for status were submitted by Palestinians, out of which 16,007 were approved and 6,400 were rejected.”

      Reply to Comment
      • bir

        What do you mean, “again?” Try to get me once.
        Your source is Adalah. Would you mind providing another source and the full context? Thanks. An anti-Israel lobbying group is not too trustworthy.

        In the meantime, I’ll point out that the Adalah document is dated to 2003. Therefore, in those 10 years, giving Adalah the benefit of the doubt (which I don’t – they lie), Israel permitted 16,000 Palestinians to enter as new citizens.

        That’s interesting but not quite believable. Permit me to point you to another pro-Palestinian advocacy organization whose statistics suggest something is wrong with Adalah’s numbers.

        http://saintyves.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=198

        According to St. Yves and its examination of Ministry of Interior documents in 2013, we can see 18,000 and estimate approximately 20,000 Palestinians (some of the years do not align completely) who were permitted into Israel on grounds of family unification from the years 2000-2013.

        Notably, these were years during which the Palestinian War of 2000 raged and after the 2003 Israeli temporary law on stopping family unification.

        If 20,000 Palestinians are permitted entry in the 13 years during which you have a war and a law restricting their movement into Israel, then how could Adalah’s numbers from the previous decade when there was relative peace be accurate? How could there be fewer reunifications before the law restricting reunification than after it is enacted? Does that make sense?

        Finally, why are you stopping in 1993? If you’re averaging 16,000-20,000 per decade, then 1983-1993 should result in 16,000, 1973-1983 should be another 16,000, the few years before that in another couple of thousand and if you add them up and go to 2013, you are in the 70,000+ range. That’s without getting into Jerusalem Palestinians who decide to acquire citizenship instead of retaining residence status. If just 10% of these Palestinians opted for citizenship, you’d have another 25,000-30,000 Palestinians who have become Israeli.

        So even if we go by Adalah (which, to repeat, I wouldn’t), you still have many tens of thousands of Palestinians, probably a minimum of 70,000 and my guess is that if we add eastern Jerusalem Arabs, probably another substantial number, gaining permission to live in Israel legally and, in many cases, as citizens.

        Reply to Comment
      • bir

        Please note my response is being held up.

        Reply to Comment
    5. The Citizenship Law Case was decided 5-4. One dissenting Justice termed the majority “hysterical.” On Bir’s, above, own numbers we have tens of thousands of imported spouses who have not blown themselves up. What would have actually happened if this decision had gone the other way? I submit that the security apparatus would delay migration per case for a year, perhaps two; and that, while appeals to the High Court would undoubtedly be mounted, I think the Court would do very little to speed things up, unless the security apparatus was shown to have done no investigation per case at all. As in Holot, the Court could have asserted principle but delayed its implementation considerably (I expect Holot to precipitate kangaroo asylum hearings with only mild Court balking, but the intransigence to date of both Knesset and Administration might induce a stronger Court response. In any case, the point here is that if Administration plays its cards right, much of what it wanted can be achieved even with a principle going the other way affirmed by the Court.

      As it is, the import of Bir’s position is that the security apparatus’ competence cannot be trusted. One may complain about the work load, but one to two years delay should soften that as applied. Instead, you have an absolutist principle effectively targeting Arab citizens which is a clear denial of equal protection. In the US, equal protection can be denied under adequately dire State interest (“strict scrutiny” is the legal term for the logic). I submit a blanket denial was unwarranted given the State’s ability to vent applicants over a considerable time span. The is no clear warrant for treating citizens differently here.

      Long term, this absolutist logic will do you harm.

      Reply to Comment
      • bir

        As my link in the response to Phil demonstrates, Israel is still letting in tens of thousands of Palestinians who gain citizenship.

        Reply to Comment
        • I don’t know the basis of this “unification” numbers; they may include children or other younger relatives, not spouses.

          But a structural difference remains: while the security apparatus may at indulgence allow entry, what the Citizenship and Entry Law does is make that decision exactly an indulgence. The apparatus may reject on whim. If the 5-4 decision had gone otherwise, bias would be with the applicants. Even so, as I pointed out, the apparatus would certainly have been given broad latitude in delay if not outright denial.

          So all you get from this law is a structural bias within citizenship. What really happened in this decision is that a thin majority of the panel didn’t want to open a door to security apparatus scrutiny in the future. The price paid is an absolutism which will later backbite. Security wasn’t the real issue–autonomy of security was. The Court panel self censured itself, and that is the real reason for the forceful dissents.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Kathy Salmanson

      Congratulations, Meni. You deserve this! I knew when I clerked for you and Uzi that you were both destined for greatness.

      Reply to Comment