Terkel’s imperative

If he discovers incompetence, he'll expose it.

Flotilla Committee 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner)
Flotilla Committee 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner)
The Terkel Committee set up by the Israeli government to probe the Gaza flotilla raid would not have been established were it not for heavy international pressure. The government had already authorized other panels to probe the failures and learn the vital lessons of the affair. So the committee’s primary purpose is to somehow help Israel counteract the concerted campaign of demonization being waged against it globally – a campaign for which the flotilla fiasco has provided a new impetus.
Unsurprisingly, the committee is drawing heavy fire from Israel’s international critics, who were, and still are, hoping to empower another Goldstone-style commission. More surprisingly, the committee is drawing fire at home – especially via unprecedented attacks against its chairman, retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Terkel.
It’s fair to judge that in his 38 years on the bench, Terkel never attracted such attention.
TERKEL, 75, and his fellow panel members have criticized by Yediot Aharonot and Maariv for being too old (though Eliyahu Winograd took on the mammoth task of investigating the Second Lebanon War at age 80).
And the chairman has been attacked both for his perceived political orientation and ostensible professional unsuitability.
Terkel may not be identified with the Supreme Court’s liberal inclination, yet it’s disingenuous to accuse him of right-wing bias. In 2004 he was the justice who ruled against demolishing the Kisufim Junction building from which terrorists later murdered Tali Hatuel and her four daughters. And he is renowned as a defender of free speech, which led him to argue for the exoneration of the late Binyamin Kahane from sedition charges and also of the journalist Muhammad Jabarin, who was tried for supporting terrorist organizations.
Nevertheless, in a recent editorial, Haaretz rushed to slam Terkel as “part of the whitewash” and urge him to “return his mandate to the prime minister and demand that Netanyahu establish a government committee of inquiry with real powers.”
Meanwhile, Hebrew University Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer lambasted Terkel on the Knesset Channel as “lacking experience in international law, which is the relevant specialty. He lacks the international standing of former justices Meir Shamgar or Aharon Barak. He was also appointed by the government.”
Kremnitzer, who said he preferred “a state judicial inquiry commission whose members are picked by the Supreme Court’s chief justice,” noted Terkel’s own advocacy (before his appointment) for a state inquiry.
The loudest anti-Terkel outcry followed his remarks last week on Army Radio in which he stated that he is “not a fan of personal conclusions. Foremost, to my mind, is the heart of the matter – preventing failures and shortcomings from reoccurring in future. Whether a given person is removed from office or whether someone’s promotion is halted is secondary, in my view.”
These comments, taken out of context, were subsequently misrepresented as indications of an undesirable predisposition which should disqualify Terkel from conducting any probe. The head of the Ometz watchdog organization, Aryeh Avneri, argued that with the above words Terkel had essentially already formulated his rulings, before any investigation had even gotten under way. Numerous anonymous “legal sources” were quoted both in the print and broadcast media as castigating Terkel.
But Terkel did not, in fact, rule out “personal conclusions,” even though his committee was not formed to sack, censure or demote the powers-thatbe.
Rather than being regarded as a sign of prejudice, Terkel’s lack of lust for political blood might actually signify fair-mindedness.
Those impatient to see heads roll would obviously be unhappy with any impartial candidate helming the probe and with its members. The issue here is plainly not Terkel. He is the pretext.
Caring primarily about the prevention of future failings is not an unacceptable premise. Indeed, it is an admirable imperative.
Moreover, given Terkel’s record, there can be little doubt that if he discovers gross incompetence on anyone’s part, he will expose it.