Former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob Kedmi Dies at 85

The criminal law expert and professor was appointed to Israel's top court in 1989, and took over as the head of the inquiry commission on the missing Yemenite children in 1999.

Former Supreme Court justice Jacob Kedmi, March 2014.
Moti Kimche

Retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Kedmi passed away on Tuesday in Tel Aviv. He was 85.

Kedmi sat on the Supreme Court in the 1990s, and his name returned to the headlines when, from 1995 to 2001, he served as the chairman of the official commission of inquiry that looked into the alleged disappearance of Yemenite children in the early years of the state.

Kedmi was born in Tel Aviv in 1930. His mother came from Morocco and his original last name was Mizrahi. “My father changed the name. What can I do? It was not an attempt to hide our origins, which I am proud of,” he told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in an interview.

After completing his compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces, he studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From 1956 through 1969 he served as a military prosecutor and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1962 he was the prosecutor for the trial of the five people who planted a bomb at the Zion Cinema in Jerusalem and after the Six-Day War he served as a prosecutor at a number of major trials of terrorists.

He left the military in 1969 to become the Tel Aviv District prosecutor and also began teaching law. In the 1970s he was appointed the head of the investigations division of the police, and in 1977 he became deputy attorney general. A year later he was appointed to the Tel Aviv District Court.

In a well-known case he presided over as a district court judge, he acquitted three defendants of murder charges who had supposedly admitted their guilt while they were wiretapped. Kedmi ruled that such a recording should not necessarily be considered a confession.

In 1989 Kedmi was appointed to the Supreme Court, first as an acting justice and then receiving a permanent appointment.

He took over the chairmanship of the inquiry commission on the missing Yemenite children from Judge Yehuda Cohen in 1999. The commission, which was established in 1995, looked into disappearance of 1,053 children between 1948 and 1954. Its report, released in 2001, found no evidentiary basis for the claims that the missing children had been abducted in any organized or institutional fashion.

Of the 800 cases that were examined, the commission found "with certainty” that in 683 cases, the children had died. In 48 cases, there was some level of likelihood that the children had died, and the fate of 69 children was unknown.

“We found no direct evidence of trading in children,” he said in 1999 to Yedioth Ahronoth. “We have not a single document or proof that government ministers knew what was happening.”

The committee’s findings were harshly criticized and the issue once again became controversial in recent months. The government is now examining the possibility of opening the confidential parts of the commission’s report to the public.

Kedmi published a number of books on criminal law, which made him one of the top experts in the field in Israel. Many lawyers would quote from his books during the trials he presided over. After his retirement from the bench in 2000, he was appointed the academic director of the law school at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.