Israel's Top Jurists Attend Funeral of Judge Who Killed Self Over Workload

The Benatar family asked the media not to cover the funeral, which took place in the Modi'in cemetery.

Hundreds of mourners, including Israel's leading judges, attended the funeral yesterday of Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Maurice Benatar, who had committed suicide on Tuesday because he could not handle the heavy workload.

The Benatar family asked the media not to cover the funeral, which took place in the Modi'in cemetery.

Funeral for Maurice Benatar - Nir Kafri
Nir Kafri

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Courts Administration Director Moshe Gal and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman were among those attending the funeral, where some judges slammed the court system for the workload judges are subjected to and for not helping Benatar.

"The funeral irritated everyone because it was one big hypocrisy," a judge told Haaretz. "He received no help at all."

She continued: "All the judges should have been here. Why didn't they come? The system killed him, the system put the gun on the table.Benatar had a conscience. That's why he killed himself. Obviously his mental state must be taken into account, but the fact that work was the trigger is awful. Work should not be the trigger. This should be his testament. The treatment toward judges must change. A court is not a factory."

The judge said it wasn't the workload but the treatment toward judges that is reprehensible. "The treatment is awful," she said. "When a doctor is beaten the whole system goes on strike. Why didn't they close down the court system in Israel? Because that would be admitting their responsibility. A judge took his own life and wrote explicitly it was because of the workload. The suicide letter is an indictment of the system."

The system applies immense pressure to judges on a daily basis, she said. "The judges are under constant pressure to increase their output. To be clerks. They get into our protocols, count pages, call us for talks, asking: why aren't you in court? Why did you take leave? That's why he committed suicide. It's the degradation of being called in and reprimanded all the time. Maurice worked, he was not playing. But they humiliate everyone, even those who are not behind with their cases."

Judges, she charged, are treated like the lowliest factory workers. "This week for example I sat two hours with the parties to a case trying to reach an agreement," she said. "The protocol was only one line, but they count pages. There are no criteria as to how many files each judge must deal with. Some judges complete cases faster, some more slowly. It wasn't Maurice who was footdragging, it's 65-year-old judges on the verge or retirement, but they don't want to mess with them. Nobody deals with them."

A study comparing the workload on judges found that Israeli judges have to deal with a much heavier workload than judges in other Western countries, she said.

"There's a distortion in judges' public image," she said. "People treat us like gods, but we're human beings. We can't work 12 hours. There's a feeling we don't provide good public service, but we have no time to let people say whatever they want. We are not machines. and when you ask for vacation they treat it as a crime."

A close friend who had worked with Benatar at the Jerusalem's Magistrate's Court said:"He was a very thorough person, a true friend. We did not notice a change in his mood, and this took us completely by surprise."