Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Ellul 5760 - September 6, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Judiciary Must be Free of Even an Appearance of Bias

Though our basic message about Chief Justice Aharon Barak and the Israeli High Court is always the same -- that on a legal and democratic basis they do not confine themselves to the areas that befit the judiciary of a democratic society, and that their behavior and decisions are strongly colored by their world-view -- they periodically provide such clear, dramatic and novel illustrations of the problems, that we can discuss the same topic repeatedly without fear of boring our readers.

"Everyone knows" that a modern judicial system in a free society must not only be free of all bias but that it must also be free of any appearance of bias. It is not enough for the decision-makers to evaluate the alternatives dispassionately and with a reasoned consideration of all the alternatives that is free of undue pressures, it is also very important that this objectivity be clear and visible to everyone so that the judicial system is perceived as free of any compromising taint. That is the only way to preserve the respect of the public for the institution and woe to any free and democratic society in which the judiciary does not enjoy the respect and confidence of the public.

What then, should be done to a judge who says that chareidi Jews are "human-sized lice" who are trying "to take over the judicial system via brutal and relentless attacks and blood libels"? Or who tells a wheelchair-bound attorney who has difficulty reaching a third-floor courtroom that does not have an elevator that he should have thought about such access before deciding to become an attorney?

Such remarks indicate that the person speaking is less than sympathetic to the broad communities that he is insulting and attacking. If a member of the chareidi community, or a handicapped person, is brought to the courtroom in which such a justice sits, he would not anticipate a fair hearing, especially if his opponent is from a social group that was not criticized. Chazal said that intimidation is an undesirable part of the judicial process and steps must be taken to stop it so that the litigant may freely and completely express his side.

This is because the judiciary must be concerned to project an image of fairness and equal opportunity and these statements are about as far from that as can be.

Having made such remarks, the judge was censured by the head of the Israeli Bar Association as well as the Knesset Law Committee. Even Chief Justice Aharon Barak summoned the judge to chastise him for the remarks and he wrote in a letter to UTJ MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz that he considers such a judge unworthy of any promotions.

Now, just a year later, Barak is his most active champion in his quest to move up from the Be'er Sheva court to the Tel Aviv District Court. Even if the promotion is ultimately blocked by public opposition (discussion of it was postponed on Sunday), all those who were the object of that judge's spleen, including the chareidi community and the handicapped, have reason to be wary. Even if one would argue that the judge is personally free of any undue bias, the appearance of bias in the eyes of many is an established, objective fact. The fact that the Chief Justice ignores this reality taints the entire Israeli judiciary.

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