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

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.