Shimon Agranat, a former president of Israel’s High Court of Justice and one of Israel’s foremost jurists, died in Jerusalem on Monday night. He was 86.
Although he was president of Israel’s highest court for 12 years, the name Agranat is perhaps best known in the context of the Agranat Commission, a panel he chaired that looked into Israel’s lack of readiness at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War.
Born into a Zionist family in Louisville, Ky., Agranat first came to Israel in the 1920s to study at Herzliya High School in Tel Aviv. He returned to the United States, where he completed his legal studies at the University of Chicago.
He then made aliyah in 1930, settling in Haifa, where he practiced law.
Despite his complete immersion in Israeli life, Agranat retained a strong American accent in his Hebrew throughout his life.
From 1940 to 1948, Agranat was a magistrate. With the establishment of the State of Israel, he was appointed president of Haifa District Court, and a year later joined Israel’s High Court of Justice as its youngest judge. In 1965, he became its president, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1977, at the statutory retirement age of 70.
Agranat also taught criminal law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He was appointed to head a commission to investigate Israel’s lack of preparedness in 1973, when it was taken by surprise by Egypt and Syria and suffered massive losses in men and materiel.
The commission recommended the retirement of top officers, among them the IDF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. David Elazar. It was especially scathing in its findings against the head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Eli Zeira.
A CHAMPION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
But the report was widely criticized for, as it was believed, failing to point an accusatory finger at the political decision-makers, primarily then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.
Agranat and the other commission members long argued that they had been misunderstood.
They said they had indeed faulted the decision-makers. But they believed that in a democracy, a decision-maker’s indirect responsibility for failure should be punished by the public, not subject to judicial or quasi-judicial action.
He said there had been no intention to exonerate Israel’s political echelon.
In fact, in the wake of the Agranat Report, Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Dayan were forced by public pressure to resign their Cabinet posts.
Agranat was seen as a champion of freedom of speech. But he is also known for his opinion in the case of Israel vs. El Ard, in which he held that an Arab party avowedly opposed to the existence of Israel as a Zionist state could not be allowed to take part in the political process.
Agranat served until his death as president of the Israeli Association for Human Rights.
The present High Court of Justice president, justice Meir Shamgar, saluted Agranat as a “great jurist” who made “a lasting contribution to the establishment and upholding of the freedoms of the individual and of judicial norms and values.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.