- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

TEL AVIV — Israel’s Supreme Court chief justice stepped down yesterday after years of precedent-setting decisions which championed human rights and put the court at odds with military and government policy on Palestinians.

Exposing the court to criticism that it was undermining national security, retiring Chief Justice Aharon Barak issued rulings that forced the government to reroute its West Bank separation barrier and outlawed physical torture of Palestinians and forbade the use of human shields during arrest operations.

He was replaced by Israel’s first woman chief justice, Dorit Beinish, who took office yesterday pledging to keep the law separate from politics.

“I pledge to be faithful to the state and its laws, and to judge fairly and without discrimination,” an emotional Mrs. Beinish said at her investiture, wearing a black gown and standing before dignitaries in the Israeli parliament building.

Addressing the ceremony, attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the 63-year-old judge said an independent judiciary was the guarantee of democracy.

Mrs. Beinish, a close associate of retiring Justice Barak who had a distinguished career, is expected to continue her predecessor’s activism that expanded the work of the Supreme Court over the past decade.

A state attorney for seven years, she is the first woman in the 58-year-old state of Israel to head the country’s highest judicial authority.

In his parting speech, Justice Barak said he saw the challenge of simultaneously preserving human rights and security his highest challenge as chief justice.

“The essential need to find a balance between security for the general [public] and rights for the individual is liable to make the war on terrorism difficult. This difficulty shouldn’t be avoided. This is the fate of democracy,” he said.

“Democracies often fight with one hand behind its back. But even so, the hands of the democracy will prevail. Because protecting the rule of law and the rights of the individual are an important element in its security. At the end of the day they bolster its morale and power, giving it the ability to overcome its difficulties.”

Dan Yakir, a chief lawyer for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel who has often appeared before Justice Barak on behalf of Palestinian petitioners, said the chief justice has a “complex” human rights record that has evolved. Mr. Yakir said the court had not intervened enough on behalf of Palestinians and failed to stop thousands of home demolitions.

“Balancing human rights with national needs is a tension that exists in all societies,” said Dan Meridor, a former justice minister who’s term coincided with Justice Barak’s tenure on the court. “People accused him for being too much on the government side, and people accused him of being too much on the human rights side. He tried to strike a balance.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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