The escalation of hostilities along the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and Thursday cast a shadow over the swearing-in ceremony at the President’s Residence for Supreme Court Justice Alex Stein, who has returned to Israel after a brilliant 15-year career in aca- demia in the United States.

In their addresses to past and present members of the Supreme Court including for - mer Presidents Aharon Barak – who was one of Stein’s teachers, Dorit Beinish and Miriam Naor, as well as members of the Judicial Appointments Committee, President Reuven Rivlin, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked all referred to the suffering and trauma of the population in the South.

Rivlin, noting the present uncertainty, said now is the time to stand fast with the people of the South. He voiced assurances that despite differences on a number of issues, in these difficult days for the population living in the south of the country “all citizens of Israel stand with you... in true solidarity.”

He urged that Israelis welcome “our sisters and brothers in the South” in their homes, and as well that community centers and leisure facilities be opened for them.

Hayut expressed the hope that the nightmare experienced by the residents of the South will soon be over, and Shaked wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

Rivlin noted that disputes between the legislature, the executive branch and the judicial authority threaten the foundations of Israel’s democratic system. In the absence of a constitution, he suggested the relationship of the three branches of the government be incorporated into a Basic Law.

Although Stein’s appointment was controversial given his long absence from the country coupled with his public criticism of judicial activism, his appointment was championed by Shaked, who said she wanted the best and the brightest in the Supreme Court. Shaked headed Judicial Appointments Committee, and it was her decision that won the day.

Shaked commented Stein is known for his independence of thought. He is a person who doesn’t take anything for granted, she said. “He carefully analyzes everything, including issues on which there is consensus.”

In his own address, Stein concurred with Rivlin and Shaked on the separation of powers, implying the judicial activism in Israel has gone too far.

Decision makers who put themselves and their ideas at the top of the ladder will in the final analysis find themselves in hell, he warned in a quote from the sages of old.

Today, he said, people of authority must respect one another and realize that the decisions that they make affect not only the lives of other people but also the institutions of the state – namely the Knesset, the government and the courts. These institu- tions must work for the benefit of the people while considering diversity of opinion and while maintaining the limits of authority vested in them by a sovereign state.

There was no dispute over Stein’s qualifications. Rivlin, Hayut and Shaked all referred to his brilliant legal mind, and Rivlin and Hayut also noted his mastery of chess both in the former USSR from which he had emigrated as a teenager and in the Israel Defense Forces. He had been the junior chess champion of the USSR, and had also been chess champion of the IDF.

Prior to his appointment, he had been a professor at Brooklyn Law School, and before that at the Cordozo School of Law. He is an expert on torts, medical malpractice, evidence and general legal theory. He has written four books and more than 60 articles.

Shaked who has been grad- ually putting the reins on the Supreme Court, said that Stein would add to its prestige and with his presence. She was convinced that with Stein, the Supreme Court will be more diverse, transparent and balanced.

Hayut recalled that in the aftermath of the February announcement of Stein’s appointment, there were voices charging that he was a political appointee. She emphasized that Supreme Court is apolitical, and that its purpose is to seek justice. In welcoming Stein she said that the Supreme Court has earned not only a brilliant jurist but also a returning Israeli family. Hayut was certain that Stein would make important contributions to the mosaic of legal issues. “He is considered to be a legal genius,” she said, adding that he is committed to the con- cept of a Jewish and democratic state.