This week the leaders of Israel gathered to honor the retirement of Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch, and the installation of her replacement, Justice Asher Grunis.
The ceremony provided several insights into the nature of Israeli government and society. It touched the Holocaust as well as the rights of Israeli Arabs. Tears and jeers appeared during the cermony and the days that followed.
The Chief Justice (called the President of the Court in Hebrew) is the sitting Justice with the most seniority. Members are initially appointed to the Court by a committee of Justices, senior lawyers, government ministers and Knesset Members. Once appointed, a Justice serves until the age of 70.
Dorit Beinisch earned her reputation as a tough lady, with decisions tending to restrain other branches of government on issues of individual rights. Beinisch's final decision as Chief Justice, announced on the day of her retirement, was to invalidate a regulation that the owner of an automobile could not receive welfare payments. According to her opinion, the policy violated basic rights, as well as standing in the way of welfare recipients seeking to work themselves out of dependence.
Justice Beinisch began her career in the state prosecutor's office, and headed that office before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1995. She moved up to the position of Chief Justice with the retirement of Aharon Barak in 2006. Barak had acquired a reputation as Israel's equivalent of Earl Warren, putting the Court firmly on what critics termed an activist, or ultra-activist path. He, too, served as a prosecutor before joining the Court, and like Beinisch had a decade-long tenure as Chief Justice.
The gathering to celebrate Beinisch's retirement showed Barak sitting in the front row of the audience. Commentators refered to Beinisch as continuing the Barak tradition, and being his protege.
Beinisch's voice broke when she recounted the death of grandparents and a sister in the Holocaust, and being given the name Dorit by a mother who chose it for its Israeli sound, and the meaning of the Hebrew word dor (generation). Dorit was born to herald a new generation.
Aharon Barak came from similar material. He is ten years older than Beinisch, and his Holocaust story is his own, as well as that of his parents. As a small boy he was smuggled out of his home town in Lithuania in a potato sack, then spent several years in a ghetto, wandered with his family through post-war Europe as a refugee, and spent two years in Rome wating for papers allowing entrance to Palestine.
My brother-in-law was Barak's closest neighbor and classmate. When Moshe received a prize for his accomplishments as a physiologist, it was his boyhood friend who bestowed the prize along with a warm hug.
The close of the ceremony for the retirement of Dorit Beinisch and the innauguration of Ashe Grunis was, as conventional at government ceremonies, the singing of the national anthem, Hatikva (The Hope). The cameras panned the row of Justices, and found that Salim Joubran was not singing.
Justice Joubran is an Arab.
Next day there were several proposals from Knesset Members. One would dismiss a Supreme Court Justice who refused to sing Hatikva. Another would make service in the military or national service a requirement for selection to the Supreme Court.
The cartoon in Ha'aretz showed Knesset Member David Rotem (Israel Our Home) demanding that Joubran eat gefilte fish on Rosh Hashana.
Worthies from left and right addressed the subject. One of the less extreme positions came from a Likud MK with a Russian accent, who said that a willingness to sing the national anthem was the minimum to be expected of someone serving in a highly visible national office.
Hatikva flows better in Hebrew than in English, but here is the essence:
As long as deep in the heart,
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Against the Likud MK on a prominent discussion program was a retired Justice of the Supreme Court who said that it would be uncivilized to force an Arab to express those words, given the history of Arab-Jewish conflict and the right of Arabs to their own nationalist sentiments. Enough for him that Justice Joubran stood respectfully while his colleagues sang the anthem.
Expectations are that the legislative proposals will end up the same place as most proposals coming from Knesset Members in response to one or another event viewed by some as a scandal, i.e., Nowhere.
A Jew familiar with two millenia of coping with minority status might say that it is time the Arabs of Israel recognize that they have lost the wars, accept Israel's existence, along with their status as a loyal minority willing to sing the national anthem.
But the Arabs of Israel aren't there (yet), and most Jews of Israel are not about to force them.
The next confrontation is already in the air. Ahmed Tibi returned from a conference in Doha meant to increase Muslim support for Arab claims about Jerusalem (al Quds). Tibi criticized Arab regimes for providing only lip service to the cause, without serious money or political activity to back up their words. He participated in a delegation where Mahmoud Abbas accused Israelis of "ethnic cleansing," and charged that Israeli authorities have accelerated their efforts to obliterate the Arab and Christian-Muslim character of Jerusalem, in order to Judaise it. http://occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/abbas-backs-emirs-proposal-to-go-to-un-for-action-against-israel/
Tibi has long been the focus of demands that he choose between Arab and Israeli loyalties. He wants both. If Jewish Members of Congress can express their support for Israel, why cannot an Arab Member of the Knesset express his support for Palestine?
Israel's Declaration of Independence declares it to be a Jewish state that "will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."
It isn't easy.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at February 29, 2012 09:15 PM