Israeli court orders government to appoint woman to flotilla panel 13Aug10 August 14, 2010

Palestine Note -  13 August 2010

Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled Thursday that the government must offer an additional position on the Turkel commission investigating the May 31 flotilla raid to a woman, Haaretz reported.

Justice Miriam Naor, who headed the judicial committee behind the ruling, added that if the government offers the position to five women by August 29 and all refuse, then the government will have fulfilled its obligations under Israeli law. The court’s ruling added that the commission’s work could not be delayed during the search for a woman member.

The flotilla commission is currently headed by retired Israeli Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel. The panel was first formed with three members, including former law professor Shabtai Rosen and former major-general Amos Horev, as well as two international observers, Irish Nobel Peace Prize Laureate David Trimble and former Canadian Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin. The panel was later expanded to include former Foreign Ministry director-general Reuven Merhav and law professor Miguel Deutsch.

The panel was established to investigate the legal realities of the May 31 raid by Israeli soldiers of six ships that had been sailing to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza and deliver aid to the strip. During the raid, violence broke out, leading to the death of nine Turkish passengers and the injury of several Israeli soldiers. Another commission investigating the military actions taken during the raid has already released its findings. The report showed failed communication at upper levels but determined the use of deadly force during the raid justified.

Thursday’s ruling came in response to a petition filed by three women’s groups – Women Lawyers for Social Justice, The Israel Women’s Network, and Koach Nashim [Women’s Strength]. The petition asserted that the absence of a woman on the Turkel commission violates an Israeli law requiring every public committee of national policy task force to include a woman’s voice.

Before the court issued its decision, it received a letter from Turkel saying the appointment of a woman to the panel would be pointless, since many high-profile witnesses have already testified, including PM Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and army chief Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Jerusalem Post reported Thursday.

The government has also issued a statement saying it would resist appointing a woman to the panel, as doing so would disrupt with its operations, according to Haaretz.

Anat Tahon-Ashkenazi of Women Lawyers for Social Justice told the Jerusalem Post the appointment of a woman to the panel was vital because “the law says that state committees must include women. The law demands this.”

She went on to deny claims that the push was purely motivated to tip the panel to the left. “The law demands women on the committee. If this means that the group ends up being more liberal or a greater variety of views, so be it,” she said. “We want to bring a different voice, and that’s the women’s voice.”

Nurit Tsur, the director of the Israel Women’s Network, spoke to Haaretz about the decision, saying it sent a definite message to the government about its selection of the panel and the addition of a woman.

“I wouldn’t want a woman to be appointed just because she is a woman,” she explained yesterday. “There are so many women whose field of expertise qualifies them for appointment on the Turkel Committee. It won’t be difficult to find an appropriate woman.”

When the panel’s original three members were first announced, American diplomatic officials balked at the age of the “geriatric commission,” whose youngest member at the time was 75. The addition of Merhav, 74, did little to bring youth to the panel, but Deutsch is several decades younger than his colleagues.

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