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Mishael Cheshin, Supreme Court justice, dies at 79

Ex-court deputy president was known for his judicial activism; PM: One of Israel’s top justices, he was a man of sharp wit, original and sensitive

The late Mishael Cheshin, who served in the Supreme Court of Israel from 1992 to 2006, seen participating in a discussion at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. October 17, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The late Mishael Cheshin, who served in the Supreme Court of Israel from 1992 to 2006, seen participating in a discussion at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem. October 17, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former deputy Supreme Court president Mishael Cheshin, one of the pillars of the Israeli judicial system, passed away on Saturday after a long battle with cancer. He was 79.

Cheshin will be laid to rest on Sunday in Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha near Petah Tikva at 5:30 p.m.

Cheshin was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1936. He grew up in Tel Aviv and at age 14 moved to Jerusalem. His father, Shneor Zalman Cheshin, was a judge and also a deputy president of the Supreme Court.

Mishael’s eldest son Shneor, who was named for his grandfather, was killed while riding a bicycle in a hit-and-run accident five years ago.

Last week, Cheshin’s wife gave an interview to business daily Calcalist where she discussed his activism for road safety, especially issues relating to cyclists.

“The accident and the cancer defeated him. The past year was very tough, he is very tired. But he still speaks his mind. He is happy with his activism, dedicated to raising awareness for cyclists and for road safety. He did not initiate it but helps in any way he can,” she said in the interview.

Cheshin studied law at the Hebrew University and received his PhD at the age of 26. He then joined the state attorney’s office and advanced until he became the deputy to the attorney general Meir Shamgar. In 1978, after Aharon Barak beat him in the race to the attorney general’s office (Barak later became a Supreme Court justice and was also president of the court), Cheshin decided to open a private practice.

He was a teacher at the Hebrew University’s law faculty for almost 30 years.

Former Supreme Court Judge Mishael Cheshin at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 04, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/FLASH90)
Former Supreme Court Judge Mishael Cheshin at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 4, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/FLASH90)

In February 2006, upon his retirement, Cheshin urged other judges and all Israelis to “fight corruption with all your might.”

Cheshin was known for his personal style and unique language in his rulings. He was a proponent of judicial activism and frequently criticized Knesset legislation, not only for contravening basic laws but also for violating what he considered universal moral principles.

An author of more than 5,000 verdicts, Cheshin issued rulings on every aspect of life.

“The method of justice in relation to life is like an actor standing on a stage that is rotating,” he said. “If the actor won’t move, he will disappear from view to the back of the stage.”

Cheshin was a fierce defender of the Supreme Court, even after retiring.

In 2007, a year after his retirement, Cheshin said: “My father was a justice in the first Supreme Court, I was [a justice] afterwards. He came to be a permanent acting president of the Supreme Court. I was deputy president. This is my home. Whoever dares raise a hand at my home, I will cut off their hand.”

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening issued a statement in which the prime minister expressed his condolences to the family.

“I express my condolences to the Cheshin family upon the passing of justice Dr. Mishael Cheshin, who was among Israel’s top justices and a man of sharp wit, originality and sensitivity.

“I have seen him in his pride and also in his great sorrow when his son Shneor, may his memory be blessed, passed away.

“Cheshin was a man of vast knowledge and a great enthusiast of the bible and the Hebrew language, both of which he knew inside out,” Netanyahu said.

Former justice minister Tzipi Livni said Cheshin left behind rulings which were “sharp, direct, uncompromising, written in a literary prose which gave form and content to the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic state.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog called Cheshin on Saturday “one of the giants of Israeli justice.” Cheshin’s directness and “inspiring prose” were among the “pillars of the Israeli building of justice,” which taught Israelis to uphold human and civil rights, equality and freedom of expression “all while safeguarding Israel’s security and its Jewish and democratic identity.”

Cheshin leaves behind a widow and two children and a daughter from another relationship.

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