Analysis: Should age matter?

Critics from Left, Right, attack the Terkel C'tee.

Flotilla Committee 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner)
Flotilla Committee 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner)
Since the Netanyahu government on Monday approved the formation of the Gaza flotilla investigative committee, critics have attacked the decision from right and left.
Those who see no wrong in the raid on the Mavi Marmara instantly criticized the decision to hold the committee at all.
Critics of the raid, meanwhile, claimed that the probe would be ineffectual, based on the perceived standing of the Israeli judges and suggestions that the two foreign observers would not be sufficiently critical of the State of Israel’s conduct in the May 31 raid that left nine Turkish citizens dead.
Scrutiny has focused on the average age of the three Israeli jurists, which is 85. Pundits have noted that the panel was in its prime 30 or more years ago. In fact, committee member and 86-year-old retired IDF Major General Amos Horev headed the 1974 investigative committee that probed the terrorist attack earlier that year on a schoolhouse in Ma'alot, in which 26 Israelis, including 22 schoolchildren, were shot dead by terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Thirty-six years later, Horev finds himself again part of an investigative committee, along with 93-year-old international law expert Shabtai Rozen, and head of the “Terkel Commission” former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Terkel, considered the “youngster” of the group at the sprightly age of 75.
After factoring in the ages of the international observers, 56 year old former Canadian Forces JAG Ken Watkin and Nobel Peace Prize laureate 65- year-old William David Trimble, the committee is only, on average, 75-years-old.
Nonetheless, the foreign participants are meant to be observers, and will not have much responsibility for probing the affair.
Spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office Mark Regev on Wednesday, categorically dismissed contentions that the advanced age of the Israeli jurists could impact their ability to probe the Gaza Flotilla affair properly, saying “they were picked for their experience, their professional expertise and their integrity. No one that actually knows them says that they are not capable of doing their job because of their age.”
Regev added “no one has said he [93-year-old Rosen] can’t do the job, rather they seem to be implying that they can’t do the job because of their age.”
When asked if the three were chosen specifically because their advanced age may hamper their ability to work with vigilance, speed, and ardent determination, thus weakening the commission of inquiry, Regev said, “this is the first time I’ve heard such theories. On the contrary, this is being taken very seriously.”
A look at earlier investigative panels shows that many featured significantly younger jurors. The members of the 2000 Orr Commission, which probed the response of police to the October 2000 riots in the Arab sectors had an average age of 64, led by 66-year-old Theodore Or.
The 5 members of the 1973 Agranot commission, which examined the failures that led to initial Israeli losses in the Yom Kippur War, had an average age of 60, a quarter century younger than those who will probe the raid on the Mavi Marmara.
That said, critics have pointed to the elderly makeup of the 2006 Winograd Commission, which examined the failures of the Second Lebanon War. That body of inquiry was led by 80- year-old former Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Winograd and had an average of 72, which, while it was significantly younger overall than the Terkel Commission, still was older on average than the Israeli pension age. Regardless of how old the jurists are, Israelis can rest assured the Terkel probe will not result in a “Goldstone 2”, a report based solely on the testimony of foreign bodies and NGOs not altogether sympathetic to the security concerns of the state. Furthermore, the committee’s instructions not to interview individual soldiers or their officers could mean that an interpretation of events will be based solely on the official IDF narrative, a narrative that will also be unlikely to take into account the testimony of foreign citizens on board the Mavi Marmara.
A critique of the age of the committee members is important, even in a country with an 87 year old president, but will likely not overshadow the parameters under which the probe will be managed, parameters that would have a marked effect on the committee regardless of the age of its participants.