Three Judicious Choices

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At the center of the judges' bench, hunched over his papers, sat the softspoken, bespectacled President of Israel's Supreme Court. On his right was a scholarly fellow Justice who, with his impassioned manner and shock of black hair, cut the panel's most arresting figure; on his left, a trim, mustachioed, usually silent retired major general. The three members of the investigative commission—Yitzhak Kahan, 69, Aharon Barak, 46, and Yona Efrat, 56—are known respectively for integrity, independence and intrepidity. They are admired collectively for their dispassionate rectitude. No one had quarreled with their initial selection; few quibbled about their final decision.

The team's tone and agenda were set and its most searching questions asked by Kahan, a Justice of the Supreme Court since 1970, celebrated for his scrupulous modesty. The natural choice to head the investigative commission, he demurred at first, citing two related cases he was involved in. Yet Kahan brought to the task powerful public and private qualifications. He is an authority in all branches of the law, noted for the clarity of his written opinions. Kahan is a withdrawn and deeply religious man: he attends synagogue regularly, eats only kosher food, and conscientiously observes the Sabbath. But in 1981, when the Chief Rabbinate tried to stop an archaeological dig in Jerusalem on religious grounds, Kahan put science first and helped to give the project the green light.

As high strung as Kahan is low key, Barak (whose name means lightning in Hebrew) was the panel's conscience, its most strident and at times indignant voice. An international authority on commercial law, Barak offers a dazzling resume. He was, at 32, Israel's youngest full professor, at 38 its youngest Attorney General, and at 42 one of its youngest Supreme Court Justices. He is also, as the Jerusalem Post puts it, "a pillar of probity," a respected champion of individual rights, indifferent to rank and impervious to reputation. As Attorney General, in 1977 he sent to prison the government's nominee for chairman of the Bank of Israel and in 1977 forced the Minister of Finance to withdraw a plan to give amnesty to tax evaders. In April 1977 he prosecuted Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's wife Leah for holding U.S. bank accounts, forcing Rabin's departure from office. And as Begin's legal adviser, Barak was, wrote Jimmy Carter in his memoirs, "a real hero in the Camp David discussions."

Efrat, now an energy-industry executive, was the panel's quiet member. But when he spoke it was as a man personally acquainted with both military habit and Ariel Sharon. In Israel's war of independence, he broke out of the hospital a week after being shot in the neck, in order to rejoin his platoon; during the 1967 war he commanded the audacious Golani Brigade, which seized seemingly unassailable Syrian positions. Since then, he has proved similarly dauntless in inquiries into episodes of possible army misconduct. As a former aide to Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, Efrat also hesitated before joining the commission.

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