Eichmann Trial Judge, Moshe Landau, Dies at 99

In addition to trying the Nazi war criminal, Landau investigated the lapses of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and chaired the state panel that investigated and revised the interrogation methods employed by the Shin Bet security service.

Tomer Zarchin
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Tomer Zarchin

Justice Moshe Landau, the fifth president of the Supreme Court, who presided in the trial of Adolf Eichmann, died yesterday in Jerusalem. He was 99.

While on the Supreme Court bench Landau also investigated the lapses of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, as a member of the Agranat Commission, and chaired the state panel that investigated and revised the interrogation methods employed by the Shin Bet security service.

Moshe Landau in 2006.Credit: Archive: Tomer Appelbaum / BauBau

Landau was born in Danzig, Germany (today, the Polish city of Gdansk ), in April 1912. He was admitted to the bar of Palestine in 1937 and was appointed a magistrate's court judge in Haifa in 1940. Landau was appointed to the Haifa District Court in 1948 and to the Supreme Court in 1953.

In 1976, he was appointed Supreme Court deputy president, and he served as president of the court from 1980 until retiring from the bench in 1982.

In 1965, as chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Landau banned the socialist list Al-Ard from elections on the grounds that it sought to undermine the character of the state. In 1969, he became the first justice to overturn the Knesset Elections Law (governing campaign funding ), on the grounds that it violated the principle of equality. In 1970, he objected to the court's interference in the "Who Is a Jew" issue, and in 1980 he ruled against the expropriation of private land from Arabs to build settlements.

While Landau frequently defended the principles of freedom of expression and the public's right to know, in 1979, he justified the censor's rejection of an anti-Zionist movie.

As the presiding judge in the Eichmann trial, Landau dismissed the defendant's claim that he was only a "small cog" in the Nazi death machine and ruled that Eichmann oversaw the implementation of the Final Solution for the German defense ministry.

In his account, "Justice in Jerusalem: The Trial of Adolf Eichmann," Gideon Hausner, the chief prosecutor in the case, recalled that Landau protected the dignity of the court and steered it by virtue of his strong character and leadership abilities.

In a rare interview with Ari Shavit, published in Haaretz in October 2000, Landau criticized the then president of the Supreme Court, Justice Aharon Barak, for what he termed his successor's juridical dictatorship, the concentration of "governmental power" in the court.

"And I feel this is wrong," Landau told Shavit. "It leads to a dead end. Because the court in getting in over its head, in a morass of political opinions and beliefs. And this is dangerous both for the state and for the court. It's dangerous for the state because it intensifies the social rifts. And it's dangerous for the court because it leads the court to lose the main foundation upon which it bases its standing: the faith in the impartiality of the legal system concerning matters of public disagreement. When the court represents a certain view, progressive as it may be, it infuriates a significant part of the public, which then begins to crudely attack it."

In response to a question from Shavit about his concerns for the future of the court, Landau had this to say: "I belong to the first generations that founded the judicial system in Israel. You could say I'm one of the 'dinosaurs.' And this system is very precious to me. I love it and believe in it. But here, too, things have reached the crisis point. And, today, I truly fear for the proper future of the legal system. Because it is being led in a way that, sooner or later, will surely cause the court's public standing to be diminished. Already there are entire sectors of the public that truly despise the Supreme Court. And this process undermines the integrity of the judicial authority."

Justice Barak told Haaretz yesterday that Landau's contributions are felt in every sphere, and that his influence has only grown stronger with the passage of time.

"He was one of the architects of Israel's legal system, one of the greatest judges we have ever had, who influenced most areas of Israeli law, in particular in the expansion of civil rights and the rights of criminal defendants," Barak said. "Landau issued rulings in criminal law and procedure that were aimed at ensuring fairness and protecting the rights of the defendant. His rulings in the area of freedom of expression were also brilliant. Overall, he was a conservative judge. Many judges, including myself, would ask ourselves, 'How would Landau have ruled?'." He was a sort of 'guiding star,'" Barak said.

In conversation to Haaretz yesterday, retired Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar described Landau as "a rock, a perfect model for emulation for an Israeli judge. "It is not for naught that Israel's justice system has won recognition here and throughout the world, because it has expressed, in its decisiveness, its approaches and its management of procedure, the lofty goal that an excellent justice system must express, and Landau's contribution to this was very great," Shamgar said.

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman said last night: "On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Justice Moshe Landau was called to the celestial court. Justice Landau will forever be remembered for presiding over the trial of the arch-enemy of the Jews, Adolf Eichmann, and for the many positions in which he served in Israeli public life in general and in the justice system in particular. His juridical heritage serves as a guiding principle, and has become part of Israel's legal tradition."