Their 70th birthday compels our judges to retire and, in October 2011, that milestone birthday forced justice Edmond Levy to leave the Supreme Court. His colleagues planned to throw him the customary lavish farewell bash. Levy, however, would not accept any party in his honor. He quietly collected his things and left the building – alone, just as he came.
That sense of being apart, separate from his peers, typified Levy who died suddenly last week. He was indeed different.
Our highest court is denigrated, and often justifiably, for being a hothouse that grows only one strain of judges, who then replicate themselves. The overwhelming majority hail from the same background, studied in the same law school, interned in similar environments, adhere to a kindred left-liberal worldview and share the same judicial orientation. All that makes them ultra-likely to tip the legal scales in the same direction and at the same angle.
Exceptions are few and far between. Levy was among the most outstanding of these exceptions.
He came to Israel in 1951 at age 10 from his native Iraq and grew up in Ramle, hardly the country’s cultural or social hub. He was religious and a member of Herut, the key ideological component of what is today the Likud. He pursued a political career in the municipal arena and served for three years as Ramle’s deputy mayor.
Levy put himself through law school and reached the Supreme Court via a route that was appreciably different from that of all the other justices. His first link to the judicial system came at the very bottom rung, delivering tea to the offices of courthouse employees in his hometown. He then settled into the mundane job of a court clerk. But he was by no means ordinary.
As a judge, too, he was distinctive throughout. He was renowned for his modesty, his almost ascetic humility. He was the nonconformist who constantly aspired to bridge the sometimes yawning gap between commonsense justice and the letter of the law.
Levy wore his social conscience on his sleeve, yet was reputed for his tenacious legal pedantry. He was lenient with first-time offenders but the horror of recidivists, especially of the white-collar sort. He famously opposed the initial plea bargain with ex-president Moshe Katzav and nearly tripled the sentence imposed on ex-minister Shlomo Benizri of Shas.
Levy’s unconventional perspectives repeatedly pitted him against the court’s almost automatic majority, but he remained unintimidated. He, for example, was the only High Court justice who dared come out against the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, pronounce it unconstitutional and refuse to rubber- stamp the eviction of settlers from their homes.
His comprehensive minority opinion still makes for an engrossing read.
In 2012, he was appointed to head a committee tasked with examining the status of Judea and Samaria.
His exhaustive study determined that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria are legal under international law.
Levy and his two colleagues upheld Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria since 1967 as unique, sui generis, because no recognized sovereign entity existed there beforehand. Amman’s April 24, 1950, annexation of what it dubbed the West Bank of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was opposed by all Arab states (which nearly expelled Jordan from the Arab League over this), and by all nations everywhere, save for Britain and Pakistan.
At the same time, Jews possess full legal rights in Judea and Samaria emanating from the League of Nations Mandate. Not only were these never nullified, they were preserved by the UN Charter’s Article 80.
Also known as the “Palestine Clause,” it was inter alia geared to assure continuity for rights accorded to the Jewish people by the League of Nations.
Levy was never afraid to run apart from the legal pack, and in this especially, he is sorely missed. There would be more faith in our legal system if our courts featured more judges like him, not aloof and detached from the average citizen’s sentiments. Alas, Levy was perhaps the Supreme Court’s lone common man.
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