On the shoulders of a judicial giant: 7 things to know for October 20
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On the shoulders of a judicial giant: 7 things to know for October 20

Late Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar is remembered for his legacies, which still stand tall today, while the ugliest fruit of his most controversial role rears its head

Former Supreme Court chief justice Meir Shamgar on May 19, 2011. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Former Supreme Court chief justice Meir Shamgar on May 19, 2011. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

1. Blessed is the true judge: Former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar is being remembered in Israel as a giant of the country’s judiciary and a revolutionary who kept guard over one of the nation’s most sacrosanct institutions.

  • Shamgar, 94, died Friday. He served on the Supreme Court from 1975 to 1995, heading it for the last 12 years, and also headed up several important state commissions, including ones that looked into Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and the government policy of making prisoner swaps with enemy entities.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth calls him the “keeper of the law,” and notes that others knew him as the “yardstick of Israel’s judiciary.”
  • In Israel Hayom he’s called a “quiet revolutionary” and “the man who built Israel’s judiciary.”
  • “Above all, Shamgar will be remembered as one who combined the will of the Jewish people to return to Zion and build their national home, together with the desire that the home they build be a liberal one. A home whose leaders know they are subservient to one rule, the rule of law.”

2. From dust to dust: Yedioth reports that despite his outsize stature, Shamgar will not be buried in the national heroes section of Mount Herzl, but rather in a regular plot in Givat Shaul on the edge of Jerusalem.

  • The reason why is that according to the law, only heads of state, government, and parliament and their spouses are allowed to be buried there, but nonetheless the paper notes that some are pushing for a rule change to allow other national heroes there as well.
  • It’s not clear Shamgar would want that. On Facebook, media personality Shai Golden writes that in 1993, when he was an El Al agent, he spotted Shamgar and his wife waiting in a long line to check in at the airport.
  • Golden writes he tried to get Shamgar to skip the line, out of respect, but the chief justice refused. “I’m a citizen. I have a tourist class ticket and I should stand in the tourist class line. It’s not right that I shouldn’t stand here and everyone else should,” he recalls Shamgar saying.
  • His humbleness didn’t end there. In Israel Hayom, Prof. Aviah Hacohen notes that Shamgar would, until his last days there, “‘open the [Supreme Court] building’ in the early morning and ‘turn out the lights’ late at night.”
  • Hacohen and others note that the elegant building, which Shamgar pushed and which has become a modern Israeli architectural masterpiece, is his most lasting physical legacy.

3. What Shamgar means today: Shamgar also has a major legacy in terms of the judiciary, from his decision to free Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk, to a 1995 ruling that set Israel’s set of Basic Laws as the standard by which to measure the constitutionality of laws (though that decision was actually authored by Shamgar’s successor Aharon Barak), to his role in affirming the power of the attorney general, and several pieces about Shamgar try to place his work in light of what is happening today.

  • “By the power of his personality and his faith in the honesty and integrity of the moral service he led, Shamgar set up, step by step, a system that places the order of law as an essential part of government,” law professor Uriel Reichman writes in Globes.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial claims that Shamgar stood for everything Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not. “As a practical matter, Shamgar made his special mark on all of the institutions that in recent years have been under unbridled attack by Netanyahu and his partners on the right wing: the Supreme Court, the military advocate general’s office, the attorney general’s office and the government’s judicial branch.”
  • Yedioth runs an old column by Shamgar that seems clearly aimed at certain leading personalities today who have sought to weaken the court and make it so there is no check on what the Knesset can do. “The nation of Israel needs to be a country of rules governed by laws that cannot be changed with a wave of the hand,” he wrote.

4. The man behind the ‘enlightened occupation’: Beyond the hagiography, there is also some criticism of Shamgar for his role, as military advocate general in the years after the Six Day War, in setting up the system that allowed Israel to maintain control of the West Bank and place settlements and army installations there.

  • “Shamgar, as well as the Supreme Court that was shaped in accordance with his beliefs, gave the occupation the only thing that it was lacking – legitimacy. Thanks to Shamgar, it became possible to go along with the occupation and pretend it wasn’t there,” writes Gideon Levy in Haaretz.
  • “Early on, Shamgar ruled that it wasn’t really an occupation and that the Fourth Geneva Convention didn’t apply to it, just as the most extreme on the right claim now. There are almost no serious jurists around the world who have bought this nonsense,” he adds.
  • Anti-settlement activist Dror Etkes writes on Twitter that “it’s doubtful any person contributed more to the fantasy of the ‘enlightened occupation’ than Shamgar.” He adds that when he spoke to Shamgar about it, the jurist did not seem to express any regret about it.

5. Out damn extremists: By Sunday morning, the news cycle has moved on to the most extreme elements of the settlement movement and their attack on Israeli troops near Yitzhar, throwing rocks at them and puncturing tires. One soldier was hospitalized in the incident.

  • As is standard, pundits and politicians are quick to condemn, and show their woke bona fides by calling it a terror attack even though it was carried out by Jews (never mind the idea that throwing rocks at uniformed soldiers might not be a terror attack by anyone).
  • The Channel 13 news website reports in a headline that Yitzhar residents are demanding the youths behind the attack leave, though no such demand is included in the story.
  • ToI’s Jacob Magid, however, gets the goods, quoting Samaria regional council head Yossi Dagan vowing, “We will act with all the means we have to kick them out of here.”
  • A picture making the rounds shows a poster put up in Yitzhar calling for a rally in support of the soldiers.
  • “Yitzhar residents need to expel from within their midst those who threw stones, punctured tires and threatened troops,” Channel 13’s Aviad Glickman tweets.

6. Break their bones: Magid reports that according to official stats, there have been over 150 violent incidents emanating from the extremely extremist Kumi Ori outpost near Yitzhar since the start of 2019.

  • On Twitter, Kan reporter Roy Sharon writes that youths from the same place also attacked soldiers in April and not a thing was done about it, since the police don’t have the resources to deal with each incident.
  • Instead he suggests that “if the defense system really wants to deal seriously with violence in the Yitzhar area, they should separate between the population and terror. Instead of bothering all the residents with police fines and cruisers, they should only act in the Kumi Ori outpost, and with the tools they use in Deheisha [a Palestinian refugee camp outside Bethlehem]. I promise them (from my own knowledge) that in Yitzhar as well not a few will shower the army with flowers.”

7. The case against nationalism: Determining what is and isn’t terror can be tricky business. Haaretz reports that though a charge sheet against Arafat Irfaiya accused him of raping and murdering Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher for a terror motive, some prosecution officials think that is bunk.

  • “Haaretz has learned that Irfaiya did not admit to a political motive during his first interrogation, and only did so during his second interrogation session after being asked whether that was his motive,” the paper reports. “Investigation materials provided by police and the Shin Bet to Irfaiya’s attorney do not clarify how the supposed political motive materialized.”
  • In a statement, the Shin Bet denies any funny business. “Unlike what is being claimed, after examining the evidence the Prosecutor’s Office prepared a charge sheet accusing the defendant of nationalistically motivated murder and rape, and that speaks for itself,” it says.
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