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
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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 Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?