Mishael Cheshin profile

Lawyers and the informed public may respect the better judges, but few are loved. Cheshin was an exception.

Mishael Cheshin was almost as much of an artist as he was an intellect during the 14 years he sat on the Supreme Court. It was the temperamental and emotional side of him, which he did not try to hide, which made him as popular as he was. Few, if any, judges are popular. Their very office obliges almost all of them to behave in a reserved manner. Especially lawyers and the informed public may respect the better ones among them, but few are loved. Cheshin was an exception. By the same token, however, his extroversion and the fact that he did not hide his thoughts, made him extremely disliked among certain sectors of the population, who either disliked his outspoken secular-liberal worldview or were victims of his outbursts. Cheshin's artistic temperament also appeared in the decisions he wrote. Certainly for someone whose mother tongue is not Hebrew, it was hard to cut a path through the dense foliage of his metaphors and obscure phrases taken from the Bible and Hebrew literature. Unlike Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, his decisions were not written in a simple and straightforward way that cut to the chase. But for those who love the Hebrew language, they must have been a joy to read. Cheshin did not suffer fools gladly. When he was in a bad mood, he would insult and put down the lawyers who faced him. Often, his words were unjustified and certainly not appropriate to someone holding his position. Sometimes he was forgiven because of the man he was, but not always. Even if he was the most popular justice on the Supreme Court bench, there are those who hate him and are glad to see him go. Cheshin was an old school liberal but he was not dogmatic and he did not think in formulas. He believed strongly in protecting human rights and was in the minority in the Supreme Court decision that upheld the army's right to demolish the homes of the families of terrorists as a deterrent measure, even though the families themselves were not involved. But he had his limits. They were not the limits of Israel's defense establishment but were based on his own "common sense" analysis of Israel's security situation. Earlier this week, on his last day on the bench, he blasted petitioners calling on the government to allow every Palestinian who married an Israeli to live in Israel as long as there was no proof he or she threatened Israeli security or that the marriage was not genuine. Cheshin obviously did not like the petition. "The Palestinian Authority is an enemy government, a government that wants to destroy the state and is not ready to recognize Israel," he fumed. "I don't understand. Aren't we a people that love life?" He did not keep his distance from the public like the other justices and was not afraid, from time to time, to reveal his personal, some would say "human" side, despite his black robes and the elevated podium. Once, while sitting on the same panel with the more senior Justice Yitzhak Zamir, Cheshin declared that Zamir had been appointed to the bench before him, even though he had deserved to be chosen ahead of Zamir. It was an outrageous statement, but the kind that endeared him to so many. The fact that he was also unusually bright, witty and charming - as he well knew - also helped.