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Shoe Throwing at the Israeli Supreme Court

A strange incident at the Israeli Supreme Court -- a person with a record of threatening lower court judges threw his shoes (a-la Iraqi journalist move) at no else than Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch during a Supreme Court hearing in a matter unrelated to the shoe thrower. CJ Beinisch was hurt and required medical treatment for about an hour, after which she returned to the bench and to her other adjudication duties. Criminal charges have been laid against the shoe thrower, and CJ Beinisch is listed among the prosecution witnesses.

While this particular kind of event is unprecedented, threats against Israeli SC judges are not new. Throughout much of the 1990s, during the hey-day of judicial activism and the so-called "constitutional revolution" in Israel, the then Chief Justice Aharon Barak's private residence in Jerusalem was guarded by government security forces 24/7 following concrete threats against him from Ultra-Orthodox and extreme right wing circles. And lest we forget, Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated in the name of that same political agenda in 1995.

Opposition to the judicialization of politics in Israel and to Supreme Court's activism seldom emanates from the old Ashkenazi elites, the mainstream Zionist consensus or from big business. Rather, most political opposition to the Court so far has come from either orthodox religious circles who accuse the Court of forwarding its own liberalizing anti-religious agenda, from right-wing nationalists and Jewish settlers who accuse the Court of advancing an agenda that is distinctly to the left of the Israeli median voter's worldviews, or simply from so-called “new elites” who continue to gain power while resenting the Court’s affinity with the ideological tilts and cultural propensities of Israel’s Ashkenazi establishment and the urban intelligentsia.

The main two claims are that given the Court's quite lenient standing and access rights, and the highly contentious nature of many of the issues it deals with, the Court should adopt a more deferential approach; and that given the centrality of the Court in Israeli politics, the Court's composition should better reflect the diverse demographics, worldviews and policy preferences of the Israeli society. As I wrote in an earlier post, these pressures have led to struggles over judicial appointments, and more generally to intense debates concerning judicial activism. It is not entirely clear whether the bizarre shoe attack earlier this week was driven by ideology, personal grievances against CJ Beinisch or by some other motive. But it no doubt reflects the charged atmosphere surrounding a very (some say too) visible Court.


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