The quarter-century anniversary of Israel's ratification of the major United Nations (UN) human rights treaties is an opportunity to revisit the formal and informal interaction between domestic and international Bills of Rights in Israel. This study reveals that the human rights conventions lack almost entirely a formal domestic legal status. The study identifies a minor shift in the scope of the Israeli Supreme Court's reference to international law, as the Court now cites international human rights law to justify decisions that a state action is unlawful, and not only to support findings that an action is valid. This shift may be the result of other reasons, for instance, a ‘radiation’ of the Court's relatively extensive use of international humanitarian law in reviewing state actions taken in the Occupied Territories. However, it may also reflect a perception of enhanced legitimacy of referring to international human rights law as a point of reference in human rights adjudication following ratification of the treaties.
At the same time, the Court continues to avoid acknowledging incompatibility between domestic law and international law. It refers to the latter only to support its interpretation of Israeli constitutional law, as it did before the ratification. This article critically evaluates this practice. While international human rights law should not be binding at the domestic level, because of its lack of sufficient democratic legitimacy in Israel, it should serve as an essential benchmark. The Court may legitimise a human rights infringement that is unjustified according to international law, but such incompatibility requires an explicit justification. The Court, together with the legislature and the government, are required to engage critically with the non-binding norms set by the ratified UN human rights treaties.