Lahav's fascinating biography of Simon Agranat, the American-born former chief justice of Israel's Supreme Court, describes how his American outlook and liberal thinking shaped the Israeli court's direction from early 1949, when he joined this court as justice, through his appointment as chief justice in 1965 and until his retirement in 1976.
Because of fundamental weaknesses in the Israeli polity, stemming from the sharp divisions between religious and secular Jews, Jews and Arabs, and Left and Right, Israel's Supreme Court—rather than the executive—has resolved many major crises. Lahav provides context for several of Agranat's landmark decisions, including those defining freedom of expression in Israel, the rights of Israeli Arabs, and "who is a Jew?" But Israel lacked a formal constitution and long-established judicial traditions, so the justices tended to draw heavily upon their own experience and beliefs. In a court consisting almost entirely of justices from East and Central Europe, Agranat was the only justice born and educated in the United States.
He was the right person in the right place at the right time, for the Supreme Court under his leadership was instrumental in establishing Israel's democracy. Without Arganat's influence, the new-born Israel, struggling to absorb millions of World War II refugees and defending itself against Arab security threats, might easily have adopted a less democratic system. Particularly interesting are the chapters dealing with Agranat's appellate decision on the Eichmann verdict and his role as the head of the commission of inquiry to investigate Israeli governmental conduct in the Yom Kippur War. Agranat's story is thus also the story of Israel between the 1948 War of Independence and the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, as the country lurched from one crisis to another.