Justice Moshe Landau
Justice Moshe LandauCourt picture

Former Supreme Court President Moshe Landau passed away Sunday at the age of 99. Landau died at home of a heart attack. “He was at home with his caretaker, and his family was with him,” a paramedic said.

Landau, born in 1912 in Germany (in an area that is now part of Poland), made aliyah to Israel in 1933. He became a judge at age 26, and in 1953 was appointed to the Supreme Court. In 1961, he presided over the trial of Nazi arch-criminal Adolph Eichmann.

Eichmann's trial drew international attention, and led to the wide publication and dissemination of Holocaust testimonies. Eichmann was found guilty and was put to death; he remains the only person killed by civil execution in Israel.

Landau was involved in other highly meaningful decisions as well. He sat on the court martial of soldiers who killed Arab citizens in Kfar Kassem, a trial that set the boundaries for a soldier's responsibility to refuse orders.

He also issued groundbreaking rulings regarding censorship, the disqualification of political parties, and the Shin Bet's use of physical force during interrogations.

In 1991 he was awarded the Israel Prize for his contributions in the field of law.

He was an opponent of judicial activism, particularly of the type promoted by one of his successors, Justice Aharon Barak. In a 2000 interview with Haaretz, he quoted Plato, who suggested that a state be run by a group of intellectual elites, and said, “Sometimes it seems to me that most of the judges on the Supreme Court put themselves in this position, of the rule of the wise elite.”

In 2003 he published an article in the Hebrew-language daily Maariv in which he strongly criticized then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for agreeing to the American “Road Map” plan. The decision “puts an end to Israel's status as an independent state, and turns it into a state that does the bidding of its American masters,” he charged.

The Land of Israel Legal Forum expressed sorrow at Landau's passing. “Landau was among the great Jewish jurists. He will be remembered as one who, while in the Supreme Court, respected the other branches of government,” the group said in a statement.