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The Judicial Appointments Committee yesterday unanimously voted to appoint Justice Dorit Beinisch the next Supreme Court president. Beinisch is scheduled to be sworn in as president next Thursday, immediately after outgoing Supreme Court President Aharon Barak's retirement ceremony.

Meanwhile, President Moshe Katsav announced that he would not attend the swearing-in ceremony due to the criminal investigation against him.

Katsav's decision to skip the ceremony presents a legal problem because under The Basic Law on The Judiciary, a justice must be appointed to the position in the presence of the state president. Katsav will be required to formally inform his replacement, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, of his decision to take vacation on the day of the appointment.

The President's Residence said in a statement that Katsav would refrain from attending in order "to prevent arguments tied to the event," adding that Katsav felt it would be inappropriate to facilitate the ceremony at the present time.

The president saw himself as the "victim of slander" of his former employee, who was trying "to build her defense with despicable lies about him," the statement said, referring to the rape accusations against Katsav.

Beinisch attended the committee's meeting but left the room before the vote. The seven remaining members - committee chairman Acting Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, Justice Eliezer Rivlin, MK Orit Noked, Attorney Pinhas Marinsky and Attorney Yuri Gai-Ron - voted unanimously for Beinisch, the sole candidate.

MK Gilad Erdan, who is abroad, did not attend the meeting.

Unlike normal meetings of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which are punctuated by intense arguments, yesterday's meeting was festive and relaxed. Barak said in his opening statement that Beinisch was suitable to serve as Supreme Court president after his retirement and that she could do the job well.

Beinisch, who spoke next, said Barak had always been her mentor and now she felt as though her older brother was leaving her.

Beinisch said she would preserve the Supreme Court's culture of values that was Barak's legacy, while addressing administrative and organizational issues.

She said the court was much stronger than the impression given by the media. As for the talk of the eroding public confidence in the court system, Beinisch said everyone from all walks of life came to court to ask for its help. She said the Supreme Court had no political agenda and protected society's basic values.

The committee discussed the public objections submitted to Beinisch's appointment since her candidacy was published in the Government Gazette. A source in the committee said five or six complaints had been presented, all by citizens who were party to judiciary procedures Beinisch had conducted over the years and were not pleased with her rulings.

Bar-On said all the complaints should be rejected.

Beinisch then distributed a document with explanations to all the complaints. The explanations convinced the committee members, who removed the complaints from the agenda.

Justice (ret.) Dalia Dorner said she was "very happy with Beinisch's appointment and that for the first time the Supreme Court would have a female president. "Beinisch is the most suitable justice for the presidency," Dorner said. "She proved her courage as state prosecutor and fought valiantly against corruption. She also protected human rights."