Leading Israeli legal scholar Ruth Gavison dies at 75

Ex-justice minister eulogizes the longtime Hebrew University professor and Israel Prize winner for her ‘deep concern for Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state’

Israeli legal scholar Ruth Gavison at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, February 22, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israeli legal scholar Ruth Gavison at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, February 22, 2016. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Legal scholar and Israel Prize winner Prof. Ruth Gavison died Saturday at 75.

Gavison was a longtime professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a founder of the Association for Civil Rights, which she headed from 1996 to 1999.

She was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 2011 for her legal research.

“Professor Gavison’s research deals with key issues of constitutional law in the State of Israel and [it] deeply and bravely [deals] with the shaping of the State of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state,” the prize committee said at the time.

Born in Jerusalem in 1945, Gavison received her bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University before earning a doctorate from Oxford University. She became a professor at Hebrew University’s law school in 1974 and her work focused on the connection between law and morality, religion and state and the nature of law, among other issues.

She was also a fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, served on several public commissions and was nominated to the Supreme Court, but was dropped as a candidate in 2005 following opposition from then-chief justice Aharon Barak, whom Gavison had criticized for his judicial activism.

“Gavison was a world in its entirety, a fascinating abundance of ideas and activities,” Hebrew University said in a statement on her death. “She didn’t hesitate to take a stand on different issues and to roll up her sleeves and work in the social-public sphere.”

“Gavison is an exemplary researcher and excellent teacher who stood out for [her] incredible public courage,” the university added.

Hebrew University professor Ruth Gavison speaks at the 5th Israeli Presidential Conference, held at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem, on June 20, 2013. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

President Reuven Rivlin hailed Gavison as a “brilliant jurist.”

“Her acute and complex thinking, crystal clear and bright, could not be pigeonholed. In word and deed she put the ‘and’ between Jewish and democratic, democratic and Jewish. Our society and our country will deeply miss her voice,” he wrote in an English-language tweet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Gavison was never afraid to go against the grain.

“Many times she refused to accept the accepted legal working assumptions and led independent, brave, groundbreaking positions that challenged the legal discourse,” he said in a statement.

A number of other lawmakers also eulogized her, among them Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.

“An Israel Prize winner, Prof. Ruth Gavison left behind a legacy in many fields,” he wrote on Twitter.

Former minister Tzipi Livni, who championed Gavison’s nomination to the Supreme Court while serving as justice minister, hailed her as a “beacon of justice and values.”

“She shared with me until her final days a deep concern for Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, acted to safeguard the balance between its values and found the golden thread, the common denominator that connects the different parts of society,” Livni tweeted.

Fellow former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, an MK from the national-religious Yamina party who has been a sharp critic of judicial activism, noted Gavison won plaudits on both the right and the left.

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