High Court Wants Government to Explain Lack of Women on Turkel Panel

Court accepts the position of the feminist coalition that questions the composition of the investigative committee.

The High Court of Justice criticized the government yesterday for excluding women from the panel of the Turkel committee tasked with investigating the Israel Defense Forces raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

During a hearing over a petition filed by feminist organizations against the composition of the Turkel committee, the justices ordered state prosecutors to inform the court by this morning as to whether the government plans to add a woman to the panel. The court even hinted that it may require the state to do so.

Former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel
Emil Salman

Earlier this month, a coalition of feminist organizations including The Israel Women's Network, Women Lawyers for Social Justice and WePower submitted a motion to the High Court demanding that a woman be appointed to serve on the Turkel committee.

The groups argued before the justices that the lack of female representation is contrary to the law guaranteeing equal rights for women. According to the petition, the law requires that any public committee or policymaking body adequately reflect the diverse population groups in its composition.

During yesterday's hearing, justices Miriam Naor, Salim Joubran and Uzi Vogelman implied that they would intervene by mandating the state to appoint a woman to the Turkel panel, either in place of one of its current members or in addition to the present contingent.

In response to the petition, the state prosecutor, Hani Ofek, told the court that the committee chairman, retired justice Jacob Turkel, would prefer to keep an odd number of members on the panel. Any change in the committee's composition would thus require either the replacement of a current member or the addition of two individuals.

During the hearing, the High Court learned that the government did not consider a list of potential female candidates for a spot on the committee prior to its appointment of Reuven Merhav and Miguel Deutch.

"The government is the deciding body," said Naor. "And the question is whether a list of women was ever posed to it. Did the government view a list of women and determine that none of them can contribute to the committee like Professor Deutch and Mr. Merhav?"

Ofek replied that she was not certain that such a list was ever presented to the government.

Justice Vogelman then asked: "In a situation where one of the nominees is a professor of civil law [a reference to Deutch], the assumption is that there is not one woman in the entire country whose name can come up for consideration?"