Remarks by Miriam Naor, President of the Supreme Court, at her Swearing-in Ceremony
Remarks by Miriam Naor, President of the Supreme Court, at her Swearing-in Ceremony
Swearing-in Ceremony for President of the Supreme Court, Justice Miriam Naor, and Farewell to President of the Supreme Court, President Asher Grunis
The President’s Residence, January 15, 2015
Miriam Naor, President of the Supreme Court
Translated by Orly Rachmilovitz
Honorable President of Israel, Mr Reuven Rivlin and First Lady Nechama Rivlin; Honorable Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu and Mrs Sara Nehanyahu; Honorable Speaker of the Knesset, Mr Yuli Edelstein; Honorable President of the Supreme Court, Justice Asher Grunis; Honorable Leader of the Opposition, MK Isaac Herzog; Honorable former Presidents of the Supreme Court, Justices Meir Shamgar, Aharon Barak and Dorit Beinisch; Honorable former and present Justices of the Supreme Court; Honorable President of the National Labor Court, Judge Yigal Plitman; Honorable Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein; Honorable Governor of the Bank of Israel, Dr. Karnit Flug; Members of the Judicial Selection Committee, headed by former Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, Secretary General of the Knesset; Director of the President’s Residence; Director General of the Ministry of Justice; State Attorney; National Public Defender; Director of Courts Judge Michael Spitzer; the Knesset Legal Advisor; Presidents of the courts, judges, distinguished guests, old friends, and loved ones.
During the High Holy Days the community representative opens the Musaf prayer and says: “Here I am, impoverished of deeds, trembling and frightened.” And as I stand here representing the community, I, too, am trembling and frightened in light of the heavy responsibility that the President of Israel has just placed on my shoulders according to the decision of the Judicial Selection Committee.
I stood here, in this house, 10 days short of 35 years ago and pledged, for the first time, my allegiance to the State of Israel and its laws. Today I took that oath for the fifth and final time. I was 32 years old then, it was a bright winter day. The fifth President of Israel, President Yitzhak Navon, asked my partner, Arye: “And where are the children?” The response was that the children were in day care. Our twin sons, Naftali and Michael, were three and a half years old. We could not yet bring them to the home of the Presidents of Israel. Today they are here with us, with their wives Timor and Ziv, and our grandchildren Matan, Netta, and Noam. Only the youngest, Noga, is too little to bring here.
Since I first stood here 35 years ago, judicial work has filled my days and many of my nights, and it has become my way of life. I was first introduced to the beauty of judicial work as a clerk for my teacher and mentor, President Landau. He later escorted me here to the Residence when I was sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court and sat here alongside my mother, among my family. My parents, my father- and mother-in-law, and President Landau are in my heart during today’s event and always.
My parents’ home was a pluralistic home. My father was a member of the Hagana, my mother of the Etzel. Thus they have told me. Over the years, their political opinions differed as well. I learned, without speeches or lectures, that differences in opinion are possible and that each position must be respected, even if it is not your own. The legitimacy of disagreement is part of the foundation of our national culture. The legacy of our ancestors is that often questions have more than one possible answer; some say one thing, and some say otherwise, and both are legitimate. Indeed, pluralism characterizes our Court, too. Contrary to occasional public opinion, there is a range of viewpoints in the Court. As each of us sits in their chambers and weighs their position on one matter or another, we do not know whether we will find ourselves in the majority or the dissent, or where the opinions of other members of the panel might fall. Different views solidify ad hoc, each case leads to different distributions in the justices’ positions, and often times we will decide according to the majority’s holding. The variety of the opinions in the Court enriches the debate and sharpens the mind and, because of the need to rebuff a contrary position, also poses intellectual challenges. Differences in opinion do not compromise the collegiality and friendships among justices of the Court. This disagreement is as it should be, as no one has a monopoly over the truth.
The night before the Judicial Selection Committee meeting in which I was appointed to the Magistrates Court I stood before the sub-committee. Justice Asher, who headed the sub-committee, asked me only one question: why I wished to leave the Bagatz Department at the State Attorney’s office, where I handled fascinating matters of the highest importance, to become a magistrate. My answer was that what I found appealing in adjudication was independence, the opportunity to decide with the best of one’s understanding and conscience according, of course, to the law. Today, 35 years later, and having gone through all the levels of the judicial system, I would have given the very same response. I am blessed that life has led me to the judiciary.
In my position as President of the Supreme Court I will work to preserve the judiciary’s independence, independence that is required for correct rulings and for justice. The State of Israel can be proud that its judges have independent discretion and have no concern other than the law and the truth. Indeed, the public as a whole has a real interest in independence, even if individual decisions are unfavorable to particular interests within society. Knowing that every matter will be heard by independent judges is what leads many, including Members of the Knesset across the entire political spectrum, to bring cases before the High Court of Justice.
My colleagues and I will preserve the chain of the generations. We will protect the nature of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that upholds the principle of equality. We will protect human rights and the rule of law. We will guard human dignity and liberty, according to the Knesset’s Basic Law. In my opinion, which I have expressed in several judgments, the right to a minimally dignified existence, which stems from the right to human dignity, is highly ranked among human rights. This is a right that I believe lies at the core of human dignity. A minimally dignified existence goes beyond protecting basic human dignity but is to a large extent a precondition to the exercise of other human rights (HCJ 10662/04 Hassan v. Social Security [2.28.2012]). Indeed, as stated in precedent (J. Y. Zamir), “Human rights cannot serve only the satiated. Everyone must be satiated so that they can enjoy, in practice, human rights.” (HCJ 164/97 Contram Inc. v. Ministry of the Treasury, Customs and VAT Department and Others, PD 52 289, 340 ).
My colleagues and I will protect the stature of the Supreme Court. We will do this not for ourselves – sitting justices – or to advance our personal interest, but because it is our duty to the public. We will protect the Supreme Court on behalf of the citizens and residents of Israel and for the sake of our democracy. As my teacher and friend Aharon Barak often says, if we wish to have a democracy we must fight for it, for if we do not protect our democracy, it will not protect us.
To my colleague President Grunis: we have parted ways with you today as President and Justice in a moving ceremony in Courtroom C of the Supreme Court, yet our friendship remains strong. We will benefit from your assistance in different tasks and the continued contribution of your talents and extensive knowledge. You have all but launched a vital management project – a several-years long strategic plan that was designed in cooperation with the Ministry of the Treasury. With citizens in mind, it aims to improve and make more efficient services to all litigants. We are now faced with the challenge of putting the plan into practice.
In this location, about three years ago, when I was sworn in as Justice of the Supreme Court, you ended your speech with a quote from the Talmud – “you believe I give you power; I give you slavery.” I have closely watched your hard work and can tell you that here today, or more accurately in three months, you are leaving slavery and heading toward freedom. I have now taken slavery upon myself.
To my beloved family: my grandchildren, my daughters-in-law, my sons, and particularly my partner Arye, I thank you all for your support all along the way. Please bear with me three years longer, as you have done so far. Without you I could not handle these tasks.
Today I begin a new journey. I know that my colleagues at the Court and in all levels of the judiciary – past and present – walk alongside me; the Court Manager and all employees of the judicial system, members of my chambers, and the remaining members of the President’s chambers are all dedicated to the system’s success and do quality work day and night. I know you will all stand beside me. Together we can.
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