Obituary: Shimon Agranat

Shimon Agranat, lawyer, born Louisville Kentucky 1906, Judge Israeli Supreme Court 1950-76, Deputy President 1961-66, President 1966-76, Chairman Agranat Commission on Yom Kippur War 1974, died Jerusalem 11 August 1992.

IF ONE institution in Israel has rightly escaped the often justified criticism levied against government and party apparatuses it is the Supreme Court and if there is one man who helped to bring this about it is the court's former president Shimon Agranat.

Not only Jews but Arabs have turned to the Supreme Court for what they knew would be fair hearings and decisions in which government or party wishes would be disregarded. Agranat presided over the court from 1966 to 1976, in which years it persistently safeguarded the liberty of all Israel's citizens, Arab and Jew alike.

The American-born Shimon Agranat was the outstanding figure in the small group of Western-trained lawyers - including President Chaim Herzog, Justice Itzhak Shiloh and the late Judge Helmut Lowenberg - who gave the Israeli judicial system such a high veneer of British-American colouring.

He was born in 1906 in Louisville, Kentucky, where his father was a Zionist leader. After attending private Hebrew schools in Chicago he graduated from the Chicago Law School in 1926. Three years later he obtained a Doctor of Law degree. Unlike most American and British Zionists, he emigrated to what was then Palestine and settled in Haifa.

In 1948 Agranat became President of the District Court in Haifa, and two years later he was nominated to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem of the new State of Israel. In 1961 he became vice-president and five years later president of the court, one of the most notable and distinguished in its history. His judgments are enshrined in Israel's legal structure.

In a classic 1953 Supreme Court judgment involving the Communist newspaper Kol Ha'am and its right to criticise the government, Agranat pointed out that Israel's Declaration of Independence was based on the foundation of freedom and freedom of conscience: Israel was a 'freedom-loving state'. Such a judgment paved the way for the Supreme Court sitting as a High Court of Justice for reviewing administrative actions by the Government including the planned deportations of Arabs accused of terrorism.

Throughout his service on the Supreme Court, Agranat was noted for upholding the liberties of the individual, of all faiths and races, and preventing the exploitation by unfairness and discrimination. Highly courteous, he never allowed any tension to ruffle him, and was neither arrogant nor patronising.

Eulogising him at his funeral in Jerusalem, Moshe Landau, the former president, himself a noted Western lawyer, described Agranat's rulings as a cornerstone of the country's legal system. Landau stressed Agranat's love of the spirit of US constitutional law and the liberal interpretation he gave it. It was this love that inspired Agranat to champion the cause of human rights and to be the foremost advocate of an Israeli constitution. As a teacher of law, Agranat imbued his pupils with the doctrines that he espoused.

Because of Agranat's national standing for fairness and probity it was inevitable that he would be asked to preside over important commissions of inquiry. The one that caused him and members of his panel the most agonising problems and led to the most criticism of its judgements was the inquiry which dealt with the almost fatal failures at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Not only was Israel taken completely by surprise by the armies of Egypt and Syria but ministers and generals were shown to be highly fallible, destroying Israel's image of invincibility.

The Agranat Commission's recommendation that the intelligence chiefs be dismissed was seen by the public as justified but many Israelis found it impossible to understand why the Chief of Staff, David Elazar, who had struggled heroically to put right the initial mistakes, should be harshly punished while his Defence Minister, Moshe Dayan, who had displayed lamentable weaknesses, should be allowed to continue his political career.

It was this sense of unfairness which led eventually to the resignation of the Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir. However, Agranat's own standing was in no way diminished. The Israeli public has mourned a champion of liberty and a fearless judge.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing