Former judge Binyamin Cohen died last week at the age of 92.
Cohen, a former president of the Tel Aviv District Court, served an unusually long 33-year tenure on that bench before retiring in 1983, upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Cohen was born in Tel Aviv in 1913, the son of a doctor who, in the 1930s, also served as the city's deputy mayor on behalf of the Herut party. He studied law in France and remained a lifelong aficionado of the French language. In 1950, he was appointed to the Tel Aviv District Court.
In 1966, Cohen received a temporary appointment to the Supreme Court, but this appointment was not made permanent. One of his colleagues on the Tel Aviv bench, Hadassah Ben-Ito, attributed this to Cohen's individualist, nonconformist personality, noting that his "straight-talking style" often irritated his fellow judges. He therefore returned to Tel Aviv, where he was eventually promoted to president of the district court, a position he held from 1979 to 1983.
As a judge, Cohen was unusual in his willingness to utter outspoken criticisms of government officials. During a strike by court employees in the early 1980s, for instance, he called for then justice minister Moshe Nissim to resign. Asked in later years for his opinion of the Supreme Court's status as the ultimate arbiter of many government decisions, Cohen commented: "Even Supreme Court justices don't think that they have a monopoly on wisdom."
Throughout his life, Cohen and his wife, who was principal of the elite Gymnasia Herzliya high school, lived with extreme modesty. They never owned a car; Cohen would walk every day from his Tel Aviv apartment to the court, usually shod in sandals. The couple had three children.
After his retirement, Cohen was frequently interviewed in the media about legal issues. In 1986, he vehemently criticized the pardon given to senior Shin Bet security service officials for the killing of a captured terrorist, saying the affair indicated that "the rule of law is crumbling. I'm losing sleep over this."
Ben-Ito also recalls that Cohen always came down hard on white-collar crime, viewing it as a "cancer eating us up from within" long before this view had become prevalent.
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