Justice Meir Shamgar has assumed the presidency of Israel’s Supreme Court, succeeding Yitzhak Kahan who has reached the statutory retirement age of 70. At 58, Shamgar is the youngest President of Israel’s highest judicial body.
The presidency of the Supreme Court devolves upon the next in line among the justices in terms of their seniority on the bench, not age. Shamgar earned a laudable reputation as Judge Advocate General of the Israel Defense Force in the early 1960s and later as Attorney General in the early and middle 1970s, prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Although he was a member of former Premier Menachem Begin’s Irgun in the pre-State period, Shamgar was named Attorney General by a Labor government, an indication of the high esteem he commanded which transcended politics. He was always regarded as an able administrator, a keen-minded jurist and an expert on international law. As Attorney General, Shamgar was acknowledged to be scrupulously fair and was never influenced by the political and other pressures that are always exerted on the holder of that office.
At formal ceremonies last week and at an informal celebration later, leaders of Israel’s legal community had warm words for the incoming President and his predecessor. Justice Kahan was widely praised for his conduct on the bench, and particularly as chairman of the commission of inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps massacre of September, 1982. The commission’s work was hailed as a model of judicial and moral standards.
The present Attorney General, Yitzhak Zamir, observed that the Kahan commission “underscored the principle that those in power must take into account the moral dimmension of their decisions and actions, even in wartime.” Others noted that Kahan, always a reserved and retiring person, never shrank from the challenge of responsibility when his appointment to head the inquiry commission catapulted him to world-wide prominence.
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