Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Turkel Bites!
(well he just nibbles for now)

I was wrong.

Yesterday (see my previous blog entry) I predicted that nothing would come of Gush Shalom's suit before the Israeli Supreme Court demanding that the Turkel Commission into the flotilla fiasco be given an expanded mandate and powers.

The case was to be heard today. But as I was writing my prediction of nothing much happening, the State Prosecutor was asking for a 10 day delay in the hearing because of "an expected change to the mandate"

Turns out (see here and here) that Judge Turkel was threatening to quit if the mandate and powers of the committee where not expanded and Netanyahu and Co. are inclined to give in - at least a bit. According to Haaretz:

The government on Tuesday looked set to widen the scope of an inquiry into Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, after a judge leading the probe threatened to resign unless his powers were increased.

Earlier this week, retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel approached Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, citing legal grounds to support a demand to extend his remit. According to Turkel, paragraphs 8 and 8a of the Basic Government Law grant an independent committee of inquiry the right to conduct a full judicial investigation, including the authority to subpoena any witnesses or evidence it requires and to take testimony under oath.

By late Tuesday, there were indications that the government would bow to Turkel's demand. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is believed to have discussed the issue with Neeman, as well as with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – with all four agreeing that Netanyahu should formally consider the request.

The debate in government follows a petition handed to the Supreme Court this week by Gush Shalom, a campaign group, also demanding a broadening of the inquiry.

And according to a later article:
In addition, Turkel said he wants to expand the committee from three members to five, not including the two foreign observers.

Turkel's demand for wider powers comes amid widespread media criticism that has painted the committee as being designed mainly to retroactively justify the blockade of Gaza, the use of force to maintain it and the bloodshed on board the Mavi Marmara when naval commandos were attacked by passengers wielding knives and iron bars. The commandos, who had been ordered to seize control of the ship and divert it to Ashdod Port, opened fire in self-defense.

But it appears that what really moved Turkel to demand change was the criticism from other jurists about the panel's limited mandate, as well as a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Gush Shalom movement demanding that the committee be given broader powers. The court was to hear that petition today, but received an urgent request for a 10-day postponement from the State Prosecutor's Office yesterday on the grounds that the government is currently considering expanding the committee's mandate, which would make the petition unnecessary.

The request also noted that in light of the possible change in its mandate, the Turkel Committee will not hold its first session until July 11. Netanyahu is expected to be the first witness.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a press statement yesterday that it sees no reason why Turkel's demand for greater investigative powers cannot be met. But it stressed that these expanded powers would not include the right to question soldiers.
Was Turkel motivated by inner conviction, by being embarrassed in front of the legal community, or by the fear having change forced on him by his former colleagues the Supreme Court? Will he agree to an expanded mandate if it does not allow him to question soldiers? After all how can the committee learn the truth re disputed facts, if it cannot interview the people who where there.

So, we will have to wait and see. Does this Turkel have a bite - or only a nibble.

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