Probe Head Has Conservative Record, but No Inquiry Experience

Former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel's chairmanship of the inquiry into the botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla will be his first experience on any sort of investigative committee.

Former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel
Emil Salman

He has served on various public commissions, but none with any relevance to the type of material the current inquiry will address. For instance, he sat on a committee that discussed amending the inheritance law, and currently sits on the panel redesigning Israel's currency; he also chairs Yad Vashem's Commission for the Designation of the Righteous, which recognizes non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust, and is on the board of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

As chairman of the committee that vets senior civil service appointments, he approved Gabi Ashkenazi's appointment as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. Ashkenazi is slated to testify to the inquiry panel.

Turkel was born in Tel Aviv in 1935 and studied law at Hebrew University. From 1967 onward, he served on various courts, and in 1995, was named to the Supreme Court, where he served until his retirement in 2005.

As a judge, he focused mainly on civil law and was considered relatively conservative.

Though he does not wear a skullcap, he does observe Shabbat and maintains a traditional religious lifestyle, and was thus tagged as a "religious judge."

Turkel used to say people accused him of being religious whenever they wanted to denigrate his rulings, as a way to imply that he decided the issue based on religious prejudice rather than its merits.

He sees himself as a strong defender of freedom of expression. This, for instance, was why he dissented from the Supreme Court's decision to convict Rabbi Ido Elba of incitement to racism due to his writings about Arabs. For the same reason, he voted to acquit journalist Mohammed Jabarin of supporting a terrorist organization and Benjamin Kahane of sedition.

As chairman of the Central Elections Commission, shortly before he left the Supreme Court, he also allowed Moshe Feiglin to run for Knesset despite his 1998 conviction for sedition, saying Feiglin's actions - blocking roads to protest the Oslo Accords in 1995 - did not involve moral turpitude.

Turkel also prides himself on his humanity. He ruled in favor of Ruti Nahmani's right to have a child from eggs fertilized with her ex-husband's sperm despite his objections. In that case, he wrote that "his heart led him to the conclusion" that Ruti, who was unable to produce new eggs, had a right to be a parent.

One of his most famous decisions was his dissent from a 6-1 ruling that let Ehud Barak continue discussing a final-status deal with the Palestinians in 2001 even though he had already resigned as prime minister.