After 10 years as a major force on the Supreme Court and years as a former state attorney and in other influential legal posts, Justice Edna Arbel on Sunday retired from the court after reaching the statutory retirement age of 70. Her departure marks the end of one of the more remarkable careers of public service in recent decades.
Besides a court packed with media, the ceremony was attended by a who’s who of the legal establishment, including Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, State Attorney Shai Nitzan, former state attorney Moshe Lador, all of her 14 co-justices, three previous Supreme Court presidents Meir Shamgar, Aharon Barak, and Dorit Beinisch, as well as a range of former justices and officials.
Noteworthy in attendance were Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar, who worked as an assistant for Arbel in the late 1990s, and former justice minister Yaakov Neeman, whom Arbel forced out of his post with an indictment (of which he was cleared) as justice minister in 1996.
Saar had clashed with Arbel and the High Court of Justice over how to handle the migrant issue, taking an aggressive approach toward encouraging migrants to leave the country despite criticism from Arbel, when she wrote the court’s landmark decision declaring the migrant policy unconstitutional in mid-September 2013.
Despite their policy differences, Saar implied that there is still significant friendship and respect between the two.
Neeman was less enthusiastic, but explained his attendance by implying he is friendly with everyone in public service.
Livni praised Arbel, saying, “I came to say thank you in the name of politicians, despite the fact that you are thought of as the terror of the politicians, at least the politicians who are tainted. Thank you from the politicians who have worked hard to perform their duties in the tainted swamp which you purified.”
Livni added, “More than once, you and the judicial system suffered attacks on your professionalism, but none of them was able to push you off” the proper path.
Weinstein said that, as state attorney, Arbel stood by her guns when confronted by pressure to back down in prosecuting public figures. He noted that her rulings stood out in their defense of human rights, minors, and victims of violence and sex crimes.
Nitzan initiated some of the lighter moments, noting that an Israeli poet had written one poem called Edna (for Arbel) and one poem called “Nitzan” (for him.) As one who had worked under Arbel, his comments were also more personal, quoting Barak that she was a “justice with a soul” and noting that her first and last names could serve as a metaphor for the two sides of her character. He compared “Arbel” to Mount Arbel being tough and steadfast (as she was against corruption), but “Edna” being soft and compassionate, as she was with victims and society’s weaker sectors.
Arbel herself read aloud her final decision, in which she and two other justices partially granted the request of long-time foreign residents to certain healthcare and National Insurance Institute benefits.
After her ruling, she encouraged the prosecution to continue fighting corruption, saying the fight was for the state’s “foundations as a democracy – you cannot back down from” fighting corruption.
She added that, “at the heart of the judiciary, there stands before a judge the obligation to exercise discretion to do justice” and that while she “did not take procedure light-heartedly,” where “appropriate, I tried to keep it flexible, and sometimes, when the issue cried out, squared the circle.”
Arbel is married with three children and 10 grandchildren.