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Asher Grunis discriminates his way to the top of the Israeli Supreme Court

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Asher Grunis
Asher Grunis, newly-confirmed president of the Israeli Supreme Court

When Israel’s conservative Supreme Court judge Asher Grunis wrote the majority opinion in the Citizenship Law case a few weeks ago, he quickly became the mascot for a particularly naked kind of discrimination, one that proudly subordinates human rights and equality to racism and nationalism. “Human rights are not a prescription for national suicide,” Grunis wrote in the decision upholding the law that prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from living with their spouses.

Well, now it looks like Grunis is getting a promotion. Earlier today, he was confirmed as the new president of Israel’s Supreme Court, an institution which, even under the most “liberal” of judges, has been eyeball-deep in the discrimination business.

Grunis’s path to the chief judgeship was recently cleared with the help of the “Grunis bill,” a handy bit of legislative intervention that did away with the rule preventing judges with less than three years until retirement from being appointed chief justice. Under the old law, Grunis, who has less than three years until he retires, would be ineligible. But Grunis had strong backers among National Union types like Yaakov Katz, who were only too eager to massage the process and secure the top judicial spot for a fellow conservative traveler with a long record of judicial passivity. As a former Supreme Court justice told Haaretz, “It is no secret that Grunis holds rigidly to the idea of reducing the powers of the Supreme Court, and that is why ‘wild weeds’ on the right want him as president. He is their ‘favorite son.'”

With Grunis’s ascent, Israel’s Supreme Court officially ends its so-called “liberal-democratic” phase (though, truth be told, it was neither liberal or democratic) and enters what might be called its radical-fanatical right-wing phase. Just last month, the court got its first settler-judge, Judge Noam Sohlberg — that’s right, a man who regularly violates international law is now a member of the highest court in the land, as Eyal Clyne pointed out — and Grunis will have vast authority over future judicial appointments.

As a prominent lawyer told Haaretz:

“He will wield the greatest influence on the Judicial Appointments Committee, whose members already include right-wing MKs and the justice minister, and they are fighting tooth and nail to do what they did in the army: to introduce religiously observant settlers into the middle ranks of the courts,” the lawyer says. “Not only in the district courts but in the Supreme Court as well. They expect Grunis to help them. I am not sure they can count on that – let’s hope he will surprise us. He is not a great hero and not one for doing battle. He is certainly not brave.”

Make no mistake: even during its “liberal-Democratic” heyday, the Israeli Supreme Court, to say nothing of the lower courts was not terribly brave. It upheld occupation, settlement, siege, torture and a host of other moral outrages. So in some ways, the rise of Grunis represents little more than the stripping down, or disrobing, if you will, of the myth of the robust Israeli justice system. On the other hand, it is a distinct shift and with it, another critical moment in Israel’s long moral suicide.

Lizzy Ratner

Lizzy Ratner is a journalist in New York City. She is a co-editor with Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

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22 Responses

  1. Les on February 11, 2012, 10:55 am

    Just as liberal Zionist has long been an oxymoron so has become the notion of a Democratic Israel.

  2. justicewillprevail on February 11, 2012, 11:23 am

    Amazing that bigots and racists like Grunis can openly say that human rights equate with ‘national suicide’. So democracy for all means ‘national suicide’. Perhaps the propagandists could refrain from claiming that Israel has anything to be proud of in respect of human rights or democracy? A democracy also requires, of course, that a country’s legal system is independent of its political system, and treats all citizens equally under the law. But not in the Alice in Wonderland world of Israeli ‘democracy’, where democracy means what you want it to mean. And you put the Mad Hatter in charge of the Supreme Court.

  3. HRK on February 11, 2012, 11:49 am

    “Human rights are not a prescription for national suicide,” Grunis wrote in the decision upholding the law that prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from living with their spouses.

    Obviously, a horrible law. But there’s also the hypocrisy. Because American Jews would certainly argue against this type of law here on the grounds of universal human rights. But where’s the anger and outcry from the American Jewish community’s leadership when a draconian law such as this is passed in the country of their “passionate attachment” (and to which they redirect 80 percent of our foreign aid)? Where’s the attempt to use leverage (say, our foreign aid) to get them to change the law?

    It’s looking to me as if a significant percentage of the Jewish leadership worldwide is behaving in a tribal way–while at the same time convincing non-Jews around them to adopt rules and regulations which they themselves, apparently, really wouldn’t want pushed on them. Hypocrisy. And aggressive hypocrisy, at that. Not only suggesting to others to do what you wouldn’t want done to yourself, but actively pushing it on others via heavily Jewish funded legal and lobbying organizations (here I’m thinking about the SPLC and its denunciations of “nativists”).

    • HRK on February 11, 2012, 12:46 pm

      I thought a little more about this article. I should have mentioned that I would be against the type of marriage in which one person of, say, country A marries a person from country B just so that the second person can gain citizenship to country A. I am against this type of thing–that’s not a real marriage. If that’s what this law is intended to address, then that’s a completely different can of worms.

      But if we’re limiting ourselves to real marriages–in which two people fall in love and really intend to build a life together–I would have to say that Grunis’ ruling is draconian–and without precedent in most countries in the world, I believe.

      • lyn117 on February 11, 2012, 3:53 pm

        What ever would give you the idea that this law (which appears from statements about it to apply only to Palestinians) is intended to prevent marriages in order to gain citizenship in a country? Do you really think persons of other origins would never want citizenship in Israel, e.g., “economic refugees” from say, former Soviet block countries, but to which this law doesn’t apparently apply?

        Besides which, considering that all Palestinians should have citizenship in Israel particularly refugees, why exclude marriage as a means of gaining rights which should be theirs in the first place? And why do you personally exclude marriages where love is not a precondition, e.g., arranged marriages, from the category of “real marriages?” BTW it’s not that I’m in favor of arranged marriages, on the other hand, I have to classify them as “real” marriages, and as far as love goes, people all over the world marry in order to gain status or wealth, rather than for love, and not by having their marriages “arranged” but with full intent.

      • piotr on February 12, 2012, 6:05 pm

        Actually, “country B” would in 95% of cases be “Judea and Samaria”, which Israeli Supreme Court includes in its jurisprudential reach. So it is more like helots gaining the status of perioikoi. Would any democratic country tolerate helots upgrading their status in this manner?

        The right to marry in Israel is much more restricted than in Western countries. Like in Lebanon, the bride and the groom must be from the same religious community, from the short list of approved religious communities. And of course, no approved religious community accept bride/bride or groom/groom marriages.

        Again, which democratic country regulates how citizens and residents can change religion or commit apostasy?

  4. HRK on February 11, 2012, 1:41 pm

    One more thing (and then I really have to get back to work): Okay, when I put my thinking cap on and attempt to see things from a Zionist perspective, here’s what I come up with:

    1. The Jews need Israel to be a Jewish state because they were persecuted elsewhere for many centuries; safety justifies this action.
    2. Because of this exceptional situation Jews find themselves in, taking steps to ensure a Jewish-dominated state, particularly among hostile neighbors, might lead to some actions Jews wouldn’t typically advocate for other countries, and, in fact, might even oppose.

    So, from this perspective (assuming one is a true believers in this perspective), hypocrisy isn’t the right way to describe what’s happening. It wouldn’t be hypocritical because that’s comparing apples to apples but this is apples to oranges–again, the Jewish situation just would be different and to that extent incomparable.

    Okay, okay. But could it be the case that when people see themselves as unique and exceptional and then decide that the rules are suspended for the sake of safety–could it be the case that this type of behavior creates at least some of the persecution which they seek to avoid?

    If one is too quick to declare oneself an exception to the rules . . . this is a formula for ethnic/religious tension if there ever was one.

    • annie on February 11, 2012, 2:44 pm

      here’s what i don’t get. isn’t there a level of self imposed separation wrt some interpretations of judaism anyway?

    • ahadhaadam on February 12, 2012, 5:43 pm

      Every supporter of discrimination, separation, racism and subjugation believes that his case is unique and that the circumstances justify it, yet despite that it’s always the same reasons given: “because they are different”, “because we are different”, “because it is essential for our survival”, “because of our security”.

      • MHughes976 on February 13, 2012, 5:27 pm

        Most importantly ‘because God hath commanded it’ or ‘because it’s essential for progress’.

  5. patm on February 11, 2012, 4:01 pm

    isn’t there a level of self imposed separation wrt some interpretations of judaism anyway?

    Have a look at this article, annie. It appears there are three systems or ‘camps’, the Sadducean, the Pharisaic, and the Essenes who emphasized small collectivist communities as the means to fulfill the percepts of the Torah.

    The New Jewish Public: Reinventing World Jewry: How to Design the World Jewish Polity by Daniel J. Elazar

  6. annie on February 11, 2012, 6:05 pm

    i’ve been following the downhill trajectory of israel’s supreme court, the Grunis bill shouldn’t surprise anyone. israel is becoming more radicalized by the day.

  7. Erasmus on February 12, 2012, 12:15 pm

    Now the Supreme Court.
    The systematic and settler-driven take-over of also the entire legal system in the “only Jewish theocracy” makes me shiver!!
    After conquering the army, other diverse police-forces, the entire state “civil” administration and public life, the outright attack on any left-overs (if any) of a decent 21st century education, I wonder whether there is anything that can prevent the State of Israel sliding further down into the abyss of fascism and apartheid???
    Historical precedents are looming large…..
    Are there any optimists left?

  8. benedict on February 12, 2012, 6:23 pm

    Marriage does not confer automatic citizenship in many countries in the world. Especially when it is being used to bring in a hostile population that wants to undermine Israel’s Jewish character. Palestinian couples that want to marry always have the option of moving into the west bank – a minor move of several dozen miles within a friendly and supportive Arab environment. This is indeed a minor and very reasonable price to pay for avoiding national suicide.

    • Shmuel on February 13, 2012, 2:23 am

      Marriage does not confer automatic citizenship in many countries in the world.

      The issue is not automatic citizenship, but legal residency with the possibility of citizenship.

      hostile population

      Concrete security risks posed by individuals are and have always been handled by the Shin Bet. This law is not about security.

      that wants to undermine Israel’s Jewish character

      Now we’re getting somewhere, but the issue is less Israel’s Jewish character per se (or all non-Jewish spouses would be kept out), than Israel’s non-Palestinian character. Even Europe’s racist parties haven’t suggested that spouses of citizens be denied legal residency, based on questions of “national character” (which they also like to go on about).

      Palestinian couples that want to marry always have the option of moving into the west bank – a minor move of several dozen miles within a friendly and supportive Arab environment.

      How cynical. By the same logic, why not cancel other rights and freedoms – like the freedom of speech. They can always be exercised elsewhere, no?

      This is indeed a minor and very reasonable price to pay for avoiding national suicide.

      Minor and reasonable for Jewish Israelis maybe (except those who would like to live in a democracy), but certainly not for Palestinian Israelis. Increasing the resentment and alienation of a fifth of the population doesn’t sound like a very good preventive measure against “national suicide” (whose nation?).

  9. anonymouscomments on February 12, 2012, 11:14 pm

    I like the “long moral suicide” quote. But there is a nagging problem I always keep in the back of my mind with Israel.

    Israel will never die, at least not in my lifetime.

    ~200 nukes, the shoah card, the Samson Option, and influential Zionists in the US…

    As much as I wouldn’t mind if it collapsed under its own sins, and it reverted back to Palestine, that does not seem to be in the realm of possibility, in the medium term.

    This is the reason I support the (dream/nightmare?) of a 2SS, despite the injustice that such would cement. The other options, for the lack of a 2SS, just seem infinitely worse. The whole thing is a paradox, and I’m stuck begging for the lesser of all conceivable evils. I’m a liberal secular NON-Zionist trying to placate Zionists with the success of the *main* objective of their ambitions. Take the unjust Jewish state born of ethnic cleansing you had, pre-1967, and live with it. And fine, you share Jerusalem. Just stop the additional BS. Just stop the revisionist Zionist BS, cause that is really untenable and unlivable for all people concerned with this issue, including Jewish Israelis.

  10. Justice Please on February 13, 2012, 12:18 pm

    “Judge Noam Sohlberg — that’s right, a man who regularly violates international law is now a member of the highest court in the land, as Eyal Clyne pointed out — and Grunis will have vast authority over future judicial appointments.”

    Thanks for the informative post, Lizzy.

    More and more the question arises: When comes the point where it’s no longer healthy for fair-minded Jews to stay in Israel? Of course one should not leave the battlefield to the evil enemy without a fight, but how bad will the situation get before people like Sand, Burg, Breaking the Silence etc. say “We tried to fight our Naziesque brethren, but it’s too late now. Me must flee the country, like some of our forefathers fled Germany”.

    How many Emily Henochowiczes must get their eyes shot out by the IDF before Israeli Jews realize what kind of people have hijacked their government and that these people see fair-minded Jews as the enemy, too?

    • LanceThruster on February 13, 2012, 1:37 pm

      At one time I might have considered these comments hyperbole.

      I no longer do.

      • seafoid on February 13, 2012, 2:59 pm

        Imagine how dystopian Israeli society will be in 2022.

        The ha’aretz site today had a banner ad for a charity- 1 in three Israeli children doesn’t get enough to eat – alongside an ad for real estate- be a success in the Gorman Tower in Tel Aviv. They seem to have developed a society with the worst kind of Republican compassion for the poor and overlaid it with a victim cult drenched in institutional cruelty towards the Palestinians.

      • LanceThruster on February 13, 2012, 4:50 pm

        I’m sorry to trot this link and quote out so often but I find it so perfectly fitting –

        The trick of declaring war against the armed resistance and then attacking the resisters’ unarmed kin as well as the surrounding population with the most gruesome products of Death-Science — this trick is not new. American Pioneers were pioneers in this too; they made it standard practice to declare war on indigenous warriors and then to murder and burn villages with only women and children in them. This is already modern war, what we know as war against civilian populations; it has also been called, more candidly, mass murder or genocide.

        Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the perpetrators of a Pogrom portray themselves as the victims, in the present case as victims of the Holocaust.

        Herman Melville noticed over a century ago, in his analysis of the metaphysics of Indian-hating, that those who made a full-time profession of hunting and murdering indigenous people of this continent always made themselves appear, even in their own eyes, as the victims of manhunts.

        The use the Nazis made of the International Jewish Conspiracy is better known: during all the years of atrocities defying belief, the Nazis considered themselves the victimized.

        It’s as if the experience of being a victim gave exemption from human solidarity, as if it gave special powers, as if it gave a license to kill.


      • Justice Please on February 14, 2012, 2:30 pm

        Lance, the quote/text is spot on.

        I mean why should this even be debated. Of course some (many?) Jewish individuals think they have a license for behaviour, that is to the objective observer clearly immoral, because of unmoral deeds suffered by their forefathers.

        Every psychologist knows of this pattern. People who think they are doing something for the greater good, or defending a greater good, give themselves a free pass on what they see as “minor” ethics lapses.

  11. MHughes976 on February 13, 2012, 1:07 pm

    What the judge is pointing out, backhandedly of course, is that genuine respect for the human rights of all individuals, all and each, logically contradict claims based on the supposed rights of some individuals based on their being members of a national group. His support for the national claim is so unconditional, of course, that he intends to contradict any idea of human rights for all individuals.

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