Israeli Commissions: Like No Other in World

Israeli politicians like to say "nowhere else in the world" about things that happen in many other places. But there truly is nowhere else in the world where state commissions of inquiry have the power and influence they do in Israel.

What makes our commissions unique, says attorney Dori Klagsbald, who published a book on the subject a few years ago, is the authority to make recommendations, including personal recommendations. In other countries, inquiry commissions merely examine the facts, and sometimes draw conclusions, but do not make recommendations.

Naomi Himeyn-Raisch prepared a comparative survey of inquiry commissions worldwide for the Israel Democracy Institute's monthly, Parliament. She, too, concluded that in most countries, such commissions can only investigate the facts; they are not authorized to assign responsibility or blame to those involved. Moreover, inquiry commissions generally have no legal status, and governments are not obliged to accept their conclusions. That, she said, is the case in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Finland.

In the United States and France, in contrast, inquiry commissions are generally congressional or parliamentary.

A comparative study by the Knesset's research center similarly found that inquiry commissions elsewhere "have no power to seal someone's fate or create legal norms." In most countries, the probe is limited to uncovering the facts, while leaving conclusions and recommendations up to the political system and the public. In Britain and Canada, commissions are not even entitled to hint at recommendations.

Moreover, in all countries except Israel, the government chooses the commission members. Here, the Supreme Court president does so.

Klagsbald says that because so much responsibility has been transferred to inquiry commissions, "no system of drawing conclusions and accepting responsibility has developed here." He argues that "political decisions should be left to political bodies. There is no justification for an appointed panel comprised of three members headed by a judge determining who should serve in a given political position."

Former foreign minister and history professor Shlomo Ben-Ami charges that Israeli inquiry commissions serve as investigator, prosecutor and judge, while the accused has no right of appeal. "They are hybrids whose like cannot be found in any western democracy," he wrote in Haaretz.