People of the year: JPost special On September 14, Dorit Beinisch was sworn in as Israel's first woman Supreme Court President. She did not reach the pinnacle of the judicial system by chance but by dint of a long and successful career as a senior attorney in the state prosecution and 11 years on the Supreme Court bench. When her predecessor, Aharon Barak, appointed Beinisch to the court in December 1995, he knew that she would one day succeed him.
When Beinisch began her studies at Hebrew University after leaving the army, Barak was an instructor in her course on theory of law.
"As a teacher," said Beinisch in her farewell speech to him at the Supreme Court last week, "he captured our hearts with his creativity, his original thinking and his search for a cohesive legal system."
Barak remained her teacher and mentor ever after until the day last week when she stepped out of his shadow. On the same day, Barak told his "dear sister, Dorit, 'spread your wings and fly.'"
Beinisch,who is married to lawyer Yehezkel Beinisch and has two children, was born in Tel Aviv in 1942, the daughter of a teacher and a tax official. She served in the army as a lieutenant in the Department of Manpower and moved to Jerusalem to study law after her release. She received a bachelor's degree and was called up to the Bar in 1967. While apprenticing in the Justice Ministry, she earned a master's degree.
Her career in the state prosecution was meteoric. In 1989, she was appointed Israel's first female State Attorney.
During her years in the state prosecution, Beinisch proved to be a principled and fearless attorney who ran afoul of the government in power more than once. In her most famous battle of principle, she publicly opposed a government decision to grant a pardon to three senior Shin Bet officials who admitted to lying in the Bus 300 incident, in which the Shin Bet executed two captured Palestinian hijackers.
Until now, Beinisch has not stood out in the Supreme Court as much as some of her now retired colleagues. On the panels where she sat with Barak or Cheshin, she usually backed their decisions.
It is possible that her subdued temperament on the court will help remove the Supreme Court from the limelight in which Barak placed it. Although she is almost certain to follow in his legal path, she may try to avoid the more controversial issues that he exploited to advance his revolutionary legal doctrine which won many admirers but antagonized many others.