The Winograd Committee's Judicial Temperament

The Second Lebanon War was an all-embracing experience during which people died and hundreds were wounded. What should be more obvious to the members of the Winograd Committee than responding to public expectations to know as much as possible about the conduct of state authorities during that time?

Over the last two days, the Winograd Committee has put itself through an X-ray screening warning that the panel is lacking the judicial temperament needed to carry out its task correctly. Thus the committee has come dangerously close to the red line that until now has bestowed upon it a degree of public confidence, without which all its work would be for naught.

Judicial temperament is an evasive attribute that is difficult to describe. It should include an ability to listen patiently and show restraint, to know how to neutralize personal feelings during the legal discussion and constantly be sure to separate the private opinion of the judge from the legal position his conscience demands. People who are appointed judges are expected to be not only outstanding jurists and bright, honorable people, but also possessors of a judicial temperament.

That is also the expectation for members of state-established inquiry committees with quasi-judicial tasks. When members of the Winograd Committee threaten to resign, whether because the High Court of Justice has angered them or in an effort to pressure the court, they prove they lack a judicial temperament. They also show they are not sufficiently conscious of the widespread significance of their position and the grave consequences that their very readiness to wave around a resignation threat is liable to have - all the more so if they carry out the threat.

The Winograd Committee has become embroiled in a confrontation with the High Court that has turned into a competition over prestige, despite its beginning as a topical dispute. It is legitimate to argue over the demand to open the records of committee deliberations regarding the Second Lebanon War; it is not legitimate to bring ultimatums into the dispute. The Winograd Committee does not have the same standing as the High Court; it is subject to the court like any other government authority. The committee is undermining its own authority when it challenges the court's decisions. Committee members should take into account the public reactions the day the panel's findings are publicized, if its wrangling with the High Court is reverberating in the background. And the Winograd Committee must certainly take into account how much confidence the public will have in its findings if it insists on not publicizing its protocols.

There is something spoiled and arrogant about the committee members' apparent contention that they are exempt from reporting to the public by disclosing the testimony, since we should rely on their integrity and judgment. Their view that they have been assigned the supremely important task of identifying the sources of the war's failure and that their work should be carried out privately contradicts the principle of the public's right to know. Those who hold other sensitive posts in the civil service would also like to do their work out of the public eye. They too have many explanations - in the state's interest, of course - to justify their position. Nonetheless, the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and the security cabinet, along with state inquiry committees, have learned to function in a media-saturated environment.

It is perhaps not superfluous to remind the Winograd Committee members that the testimony and documents they hear and read - which they have granted immunity from public disclosure - reflect the calamity that fell upon the country last summer. The Second Lebanon War was an all-embracing experience during which people died and hundreds were wounded. What is more obvious than responding to public expectations to know as much as possible about the conduct of state authorities during that time? And what is more simple than protecting security secrets via the military censor?

The Winograd Committee planned its moves in such a clumsy way that its topical position against publicizing the protocols - though it, too, was controversial - has turned into an insipid discussion about timing. The committee is finding itself embroiled in a struggle not with the petitioner - MK Zahava Gal-On - but with the Supreme Court president, Dorit Beinisch, and her four colleagues who are also hearing the case. The discussion comes down to the peripheral issue of whether the (censored) records should be publicized a few days before the committee's interim report is completed, or a few days after. This is an unnecessary, almost ludicrous, clarification that involves a battle between the committee and the High Court over prestige. A proper judicial temperament would dictate an agreement, or a verdict, the essence of which would be that the Winograd Committee accepts, with all due respect, the High Court's position on the need to publicize the testimony, while the court takes the committee's judgment into account regarding the timing of the disclosure.