The judiciary and the country's leadership took leave of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who retired yesterday, and welcomed her replacement as chief justice of the court, Asher Dan Grunis. It marked the end of more than 15 years as a Supreme Court justice for Beinisch and over 40 years as a member of the public service.
With tears in her eyes, Beinisch told a packed courtroom at the Supreme Court yesterday that she never saw her time on the court or at the state prosecutor's office, where she worked from 1967 to 1995, as a place of employment but rather as a calling. She spoke of the importance of the court, stating that although the judicial branch of government rests on the confidence of the public, it is not based on considerations of what is popular. "We must be attentive to the distress of the public and to what it feels in its heart without being subject to the influence of groups of one kind or another."
In the audience were two former presidents of the court, Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar as well as former and current judges, other senior figures from the judicial system and relatives of both Beinisch and Grunis. Among those who expressed their good wishes to Beinisch at the session were Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, Justice Minster Yaakov Neeman, and Israel Bar Association chairman Doron Barzilay.
Beinisch said the most difficult judicial decisions she had to make were not over broad public issues but cases affecting individuals, including cases involving juveniles, crime victims, adoption cases and cases dealing with the status of women. Changes that the country has undergone in recent years will require the court to face the reality of a complex society, she added.
Addressing her successor as court president, she said it was no secret that she and Justice Grunis differed in their approaches on a number of matters, but she said it never soured relations between them. Grunis was formally sworn in as Supreme Court president on Tuesday afternoon at the President's Residence in Jerusalem in a ceremony that included remarks by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
At the ceremony, Grunis noted the relatively large number of personnel changes among the justices on the high court recently. He said that judges, particularly on the Supreme Court, have a special responsibility to ensure that the legislative and executive branches of government scrupulously respect both individual rights and the general public interest. He said the courts are "the best guarantee in the defense of human rights."
At Tuesday afternoon's ceremony, Netanyahu underlined his commitment to the courts and promised to continue to ensure the independence of the judiciary. "I did not allow and I will not allow the court to be harmed. Just over the past several months, I shelved every bill that threatened the independence of the [judicial] system," he said. In the past, Netanyahu was taken to task by critics who said he had stood by while the judiciary and the Supreme Court in particular came under attack by political forces.
Right-wing Knesset members yesterday welcomed Beinisch's departure from the court. MK Yaakov Katz of the National Union, who initiated a change in the law that enabled Justice Grunis to succeed her even though he had less than three years on the bench before he retires, called the retiring court president "a controversial judge whose radical left-wing ideology guided her and jurisprudence was just a tool for her."
"After passing the Grunis law," Katz said, "the next step is legislating that the High Court of Justice cannot strike down laws, and right after that, the laws that have been struck down will [again] be enforced retroactively."
At yesterday afternoon's ceremony, Peres spoke of the period during which Beinisch was court president as "one of the most difficult in the history of the Supreme Court." He called the outgoing chief justice "one of the most important and bravest figures that has served at the head of the highest judicial institution in Israel."