One of only nine women appointed as justices in Israel’s Supreme Court before 2005, Dorit Beinisch was born in Tel Aviv on February 28, 1942. Her university-educated father, Aharon Werba (1905–1980), who served in Israel as a civil servant, immigrated to Palestine from Poland in 1933 with his wife, Chava (née Sir, 1909–1969), who studied at a Hebrew teachers’ seminary in Warsaw and worked as a kindergarten teacher and an educator in Tel Aviv. Active Zionists before immigrating to Palestine, both parents contributed to public and social work, especially to education.
In 1964, Dorit Werba married Yeheskell Beinisch (b. 1941), a lawyer. They have two daughters, Daniella (b. 1975) and Michal (b. 1977).
After serving in the IDF and attaining the rank of lieutenant, Dorit Beinisch studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she received an LL.B. in 1966 and an LL.M. in 1968. In 1967 she was admitted to the Israeli Bar. Her career in public service began as an assistant to the Jerusalem District Attorney and subsequently as senior assistant to the State Attorney in the criminal law department.
From 1976 to 1982 she served as director of the Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law at the state attorney’s office. She represented the state before the Supreme Court in constitutional and administrative cases, in petitions against the government and the IDF, and in basic deliberations between the individual and the state.
In 1982, Dorit Beinisch was appointed Deputy State Attorney and in 1989 became the State Attorney, the first woman in this position. She served for seven years, heading government litigation in the courts. In addition, she served as the legal adviser to government departments and agencies.
In her various public positions, Beinisch has paid special attention to corruption in government and ensuring that the government institutions (and especially the military, the police force and general security forces) remain subject to the dictates of law. During her term of office as Deputy State Attorney, she served as head of the prosecution team in the trial of members of the Jewish underground accused of attacking Palestinians in the administered territories. Beinisch was a key figure in demanding the disclosure of the attempt of the Israeli General Security Service to cover up on-the-spot killing of two terrorists who hijacked a bus Number 300 and murdered one of its passengers.
Dorit Beinisch played an active role in the establishment within the Ministry of Justice of a unit whose task it was to interrogate police.
In 1993, true to her conscience, she refused, as the State Attorney, to represent the government in the petition against it to the High Court, after some four hundred Palestinian activists, members of Hamas, were expelled from the country. At the same time, she headed the interrogation and presented the charges against a number of public figures suspected of corruption. An additional precedent set by Beinisch in her role as state attorney was ordering the police to begin a criminal investigation of a widely-distributed newspaper which published blatant advertisements for sexual services and erotic phone calls.
In 1995 Dorit Beinisch was appointed to Israel’s Supreme Court, where the hallmark of her opinions was protection of human rights in general and those of weak populations in particular. While she tends to display moderation in conflicts that have economic implications, when it comes to protection of the rights of women, children and other weaker elements in society, her rulings are forthright and greatly influenced by the new basic laws passed since the 1990s, in particular the basic law concerning human dignity and liberty and that on freedom of employment.
In January 2000, Beinisch wrote a precedent-setting ruling that aroused a storm of public response: she forbade parents to use corporal punishment or otherwise humiliate or shame their children by way of punishment. In her view, the use of corporal punishment as an educational means is a form of assault that infringes children’s human rights and causes escalation in the degree of violence prevalent in society in general.
Beinisch’s judgments also include disciplinary measures against offenders convicted for sexual harassment. In her rulings she has frequently referred to her concern regarding the prevalence of this phenomenon and its impact on the respect and status of its victims. Severe sentences were imposed on those found guilty of sexual harassment, among them high-ranking civil servants.
Just as when she served in the State Attorney’s Office, Beinisch sets high standards of behavior for the security services and does not hesitate to publicly criticize them.
Heading an official committee that examined introducing cameras into the courts, to provide ongoing coverage of discussions that are relevant to the general public, Beinisch recommended a limited change in the existing policy of the Supreme Court.
In accord with the tradition of the seniority rule in the Supreme Court, Beinisch is the candidate to replace Chief Justice Aharon Barak upon his retirement in 2006 and thus become the first woman to occupy this august position.