Hadassa Ben-Itto, acclaimed jurist and author, dead at 91

Many aspects of her long and fruitful life mirrored recent events in Israel.

Remembrance candle (photo credit: Courtesy)
Remembrance candle
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is never a right time to die. Death, after all, means the end of life, and even some people who die at a ripe old age are said to have gone before their time.
Had she been able to choose an appropriate time to die, author and retired judge Hadassa Ben-Itto would in all probability have chosen the time that was decided for her by a higher force.
Many aspects of her long and fruitful life mirrored recent events in Israel.
In the span of less than a month, Israel’s dispute with Poland over the complicity of Poles in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust had not yet been settled. Ben-Itto was born in Brzezin, Poland.
Israel is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary of independence and sovereign statehood. Ben-Itto was an officer in the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence.
And current reports of antisemitism and incitement against Jews are causing concern and alarm in the Jewish world. Ben-Itto retired from the bench in 1991 in order to write her best-selling book The Lie that Wouldn’t Die: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which has been translated into nine languages.
First published in Russia in 1903, The Protocols is a fabricated text that suggests that there is a Jewish conspiracy to take over and dominate the world.
Instead of fading with the passage of time, this notorious lie, purporting to be a record of secret conversations between Jewish leaders, has become magnified and adopted by Jew haters in countries around the globe. There have been other fallacies about Jews that have been spread far and wide, but none have endured or been embellished to the extent of this one.
Ben-Itto was almost obsessed with proving The Protocols to be an outright lie. She traced their history and that of the people who kept disseminating the lie. Her mission and her quest took her into many lawyers’ offices and court chambers, in various countries.
Prior to her retirement in order to focus on her book, Ben-Itto was deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court and an acting justice in the Supreme Court. All in all, she served as a judge in all of Israel’s court levels, spending a total of 31 years on the bench. Before her appointment as a judge, she practiced law for five years.
In addition, she served twice as a member of the Israel delegation to the United Nations – first in 1965, and again in 1975.
She was the leading Israel representative at many international conferences including the UNESCO Conference on Human Rights that was held in Paris in 1982.
But one of her most important moral and legal missions was as the Israel representative from 1998 to 2002 on a 17-member panel of international arbitrators at the Claims Resolution Tribunal in Zurich, which adjudicated claims against Swiss banks holding dormant accounts of people who perished or were murdered in the Holocaust. In the final analysis, the banks released the names of 50,000 people whose heirs could lay claim to accounts that had been dormant for upwards of half a century. Ben-Itto was the only woman on the panel.
Ben-Itto also served from 1988-2004 as the president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, and from 2004 onward was honorary president of the association and head of its committee to combat antisemitism.
Back home she was appointed by the Justice and Health ministries to head a committee investigating prostitution; recommended severe punishment for pimps engaged in human trafficking; and proposed legal and health regulations that would help reduce prostitution in Israel.
Ben-Itto was laid to rest on Sunday at the old Herzliya cemetery. She is survived by her daughter Orly Asodi; her sister and brother-in-law Nira and Moti Kfir; and their families.