Who is the new incoming justice minister, Avraham (“Avi”) Daniel Nissenkorn of Blue and White, who will shape the future of the High Court of Justice as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial kicks off?
Nissenkorn, Blue and White’s number three in the Knesset, was born in Afula on March 20, 1967.
His parents, Israel and Ilana, were physicians who immigrated from Poland.
He was a top sprinter in his youth, participating in the Men’s 200 meter race at the 1986 World Junior Championships in Athletics.
During his IDF service, he was a sports instructor.
Nissenkorn studied law at Tel Aviv University and spent years working as a lawyer for the Histadrut labor union or in the private sector regarding labor-related legal issues.
When he ascended to become the Histadrut General Secretary in 2014, he was the first leader to come straight from the legal department.
During his five-year tenure, Nissenkorn was credited with raising the minimum wage and facilitating more independent contractors to gain additional rights, some even achieving direct employment status and protections.
There is an ongoing debate about whether Nissenkorn was the leader on these issues or whether outgoing Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon was the key figure.
Some critics of the new justice minister have also said that while he was a smooth operator for institutional interests that he has represented, he did not fight for weaker sectors of the labor market during his term and failed to advance his promises of transparency.
During his tenure, Nissenkorn won elections against or successfully beat back legal challenges by former Labor Party stars Shelly Yacimovich and Eitan Cabel, including some accusations of problematic campaign tactics.
Prior to joining Blue and White in 2019, Nissenkorn was said to have flirted with joining the Labor Party – as prior Histadrut chairmen have – as well as Kahlon’s party. He is said to view the economy from a more traditional Left-social-democrat perspective.
Nissenkorn, as head of the powerful Knesset Arrangements Committee, was critical of Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz’s plans in the last Knesset to remove Netanyahu’s immunity from prosecution (Nissenkorn moved the process far along enough to get Netanyahu to self-withdraw his immunity.)
He was also critical of moving the process forward to put Gantz into the Knesset speaker’s chair in place of predecessor Yuli Edelstein and to opening a variety of Knesset committees to perform oversight over the transitional government.
What does any of this have to do with being justice minister and his views on key issues like Netanyahu’s trial; the High Court; running the Ministerial Committee on Legislation; and appointing future officials to succeed Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and acting State Attorney Dan Eldad?
If Gantz had won the race for prime minister outright, Nissenkorn was publicly gunning to be finance minister.
The justice minister role appears to be a concession prize as the third most senior ministerial post Blue and White received – and as a spot where Gantz needed an operator he could count on.
Obviously, Nissenkorn also had a long career as a lawyer, but it was mostly in labor law and he is not on record on many of the key legal issues confronting the state.
However, based on the Likud’s initial strong resistance to his appointment and the sigh of relief within the legal establishment, he is expected to return the position of justice minister position being much more in harmony with Mandelblit and the High Court, such as in the pre-2015 days of Tzipi Livni.
The days of attacks on Mandelblit, the state prosecution and the High Court are expected to end immediately, though even Livni sometimes expressed lighter and more narrow criticism of specific decisions by the court.
If there were questions about Ohana possibly pushing Netanyahu’s trial later due to the corona crisis, Nissenkorn’s appointment should ensure that the trial starts on May 24 as scheduled.
Much of the discussion has revolved around what kind of High Court justices Nissenkorn will appoint, with implications for who may be hearing appeals by Netanyahu if he is convicted in the bribery trial.
Critics of Blue and White on the Left – who said that the party folded and gave Netanyahu a veto of future justices – seem to not have done their homework.
The two dominant figures of the Judicial Selection Committee are the High Court President and the justice minister.
With both of these key actors on the same side, the whole process will be much more under the control of the justices themselves after a five-year hiatus in which former justice minister Ayelet Shaked managed to arrange more conservative appointments to the court.
True, Blue and White agreed to have Zvi Hauser take the traditional opposition seat – and he is a strong ideological right-winger and conservative when it comes to the High Court.
But Hauser will not do Netanyahu any favors on the rule of law, having left his orbit because of exactly those concerns. Hauser came into politics with other “old-style” Likudniks who criticize the court only on ideological issues, but support it in prosecuting public figures.
Moreover, the Likud together with Hauser have at most a minority veto over certain justices.
Nissenkorn along with three High Court justices and the Israel Bar Association’s representative – who under Avi Himi, is back in the court’s corner – have an actual majority.
Will Nissenkorn and the High Court need to make compromises? Of course.
But they will dictate the nature and scope of the compromises as opposed to the days of Shaked when she wielded both a majority on the committee and a government behind her which might remove the justices’ veto.
Nissenkorn is married to Andrea and they have two children, Ori and Ron, and live in Hod Hasharon. Ron suffers from epilepsy, which has led Nissenkorn to take on issues related to disabilities as a cause.