First there was a young woman. She did or did not act flirtatiously and warmly around Israel’s Minister of Justice, Haim Ramon. He, after being hugged quite tightly by the young soldier, seemed to have misread the warmth of her breasts rubbing against him in that ill-fated pose for a photograph as a signal that she really liked him. Ramon stuck his tongue in her mouth to test his theory. He quickly withdrew it, realizing that her tongue was avoiding his…but the damage was done. A couple of weeks ago the Kiss led to Ramon’s conviction in a court of law and his permanent removal from his Ministerial position.
There was a Prime Minister by the name of Olmert. He did not become Prime Minister because he was exceptionally gifted or loved by the Israeli populace. Rather, he earned his position on the comatose wings of Ariel Sharon, his mentor and master for a number of years in which he led Israel. Olmert got lucky and got the leadership slot, and had enough of Sharon’s patina rub off on him that even though serious doubts were cast regarding Kadima’s promised withdrawal from the West Bank, they still managed to get 29 seats in the Knesset.
There once was a war launched by Hizbullah against Israel in the form of attacks on its soldiers and simultaneous attacks on a civilian area and other targets. Olmert, along with Halutz and the underqualified Defense Minister, Peretz, led Israel into this war with little forethought, little foresight, poor planning, poor leadership, and a result that has harmed Israel gravely while strengthening its enemies. Halutz finally resigned some months after the war, but Olmert and Peretz remain.
There once was a plan to have Israel leave the majority of Judea and Samaria AKA the West Bank, and withdraw to a line behind a security barrier that stood at around the 7.5% line of the West Bank. This was a Sharon plan, bequeathed to his party, Kadima, and his successor, Olmert. The problem arose a few months into Olmert’s prime ministership when war broke out with Hizbullah and he ran a travesty of a war and a bigger travesty of a solution to that war in the form of UNSCR 1701, which, according to the papers, is being violated regularly by Hizbullah under the blind eyes of UN peacekeepers. The Israeli public learned from this war what happens when Israel withdraws from an area without a diplomatic settlement, and then had the lesson reinforced daily with Qassem rockets launched from a Jew-free Gaza. Israeli support for withdrawal from the West Bank has diminished greatly, along with confidence in their leader, Olmert.
There once was a lawyer and his name was Ehud Olmert. What did this former lawyer do when the platform which got him elected was no longer tenable? What did he do when his approval ratings were in the lower double digits? What did he do when he had been fighting to survive even as investigations swirled around him from all directions? Well, he replaced the man who gave the ill-conceived Kiss to the flirtatious young female soldier: the Minister of Justice. Olmert gave the job to a brilliant legal scholar, Daniel Friedman, who brings to the job serious qualifications and one little problem.
Once, not so long ago, there was a well-regarded and important legal scholar who had protegees. One of this scholar’s protegees was up for a position in the Supreme Court of Israel. Having trained her himself, this legal scholar supported her candidacy strongly…only to be disgusted when the prevailing justices ruled against her elevation to the Court. He was even more disgusted when protegees of the Chief (now ex-chief) Justice were elevated and far more incensed when one of those whom he considered to be an inferior judge was appointed as the new Chief Justice. That important legal scholar is Daniel Friedman. He is Israel’s new Justice Minister.
Once upon a time a new Justice Minister had a first order of business. What was it? What was Daniel Friedman’s first serious action?
An attempt to remove the Supreme Court’s right to overturn laws created by the Knesset.
Yup, Minister Friedman is convinced that the judiciary is far from perfect and that its problems are well represented at the top – how else can one explain the elevation of ninkompoop justices instead of his beloved protegee – in the Supreme Court. How can such an inferior court have the power to overturn laws without oversight? How does the judiciary, unelected and unanswerable to the public, take steps to nullify the choices made by elected representatives? Friedman believes they should not be in a position to do so. He has now taken it upon himself to change the law so that the final say will rest with the Knesset, not the judiciary.
Once upon a time, there were people of stature and quality guiding Israel; people who could see past their own bellies. Those people are mostly gone and the new generation of leaders are far more selfish. Once upon a time there was a sense of ethics and responsibility among Israel’s leaders so that (as a recent op-ed pointed out) a prime minister would resign if his wife had $10,000 in foreign funds in a foreign bank account in violation of Israeli law. Those times are gone. Today’s PM won’t even quit after having cost dozens of soldiers their lives in a poorly managed and conceived war.
Once upon a time, there were scandals in Israeli government circles, but one cannot imagine a time when the President, Justice Minister, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, other ministers, Knesset members from different parties, head of the Tax Authority, the PM’s long-standing personal assistant, Chief of Police and many of his deputies, were all involved in criminal investigations, indicted on criminal charges or had clouds of suspicion about criminal activity raised by investigative bodies. This, of course, only a year after the former PM’s son was convicted of violations of the law and sent to prison. This after the second last election when the ruling party then, the Likud, voted in high ranking members who were allegedly connected with the Israeli underworld.
Once upon a time, there was a seriously flawed election system in Israel. It remains that way. Although parties are answerable to voters, politicians are not.
Once upon a time there was Zionism and as an ideology it drove the leadership to act. While that remains true for a few, many (most?) Israeli politicians have become cynical caricatures of their predecessors. In fact, it is sadly becoming true that the Israeli government is becoming a caricature of a functioning democracy, if corruption is a barometer – not unlike a banana republic. Fortunately, there remain some people who are able and willing to investigate and challenge Israel’s leaders, but the public cannot trust that its leadership will care about the welfare of the state instead of their own welfare. Even the IDF is beginning to stink a little and everyone is just hoping that the new Chief of Staff will be able to clean house and change the established and institutionalized weak spots.
It is to these folks that Daniel Friedman wishes to leave sole authorship over the truly important decisions about Israeli society. Instead of leaving the final recourse regarding the fairness of laws to justices, who may not adhere to rules of impartiality perfectly, but at least try and who are immune from many of the pressures that exist for the politicians regularly, this man with the personal ax to grind, has determined that those people who have proven themselves corrupt, indecisive, ideologically inconsistent, opportunistic, swayed by influence and money and who are not even directly elected so that their actions face no serious consequence if they know how to play the game within their own party…that these people should be the first and last stop for all laws of the land. He believes that these people should decide instead of impartial jurists who have few such outside influences. Does he not see who here is the real threat to Israeli democracy?
In the United States, the Supreme Court and the judiciary stand equal to the two other branches of government. It would be hard to claim that the US Supreme Court isn’t independent and that its decisions regarding the constitutionality of laws aren’t extraordinarily important and valued within society. It would also be hard to argue that the very finest legal minds are always the ones who make it to this court, since, as we all know, politics and timing play a critical role in who gets picked and who makes it in. Still, the importance of this institution is incalculable and I would argue that Israel’s Supreme Court is no less important. Perhaps, in some ways, in light of the corruption and party system in Israeli politics, it is even more important to the stablity and honor of Israeli democracy for it stands as the last line of defense for those who are not represented in the mainstream or who do not have power brokers who can negotiate with the politicians on their behalf. To those people and organizations, there is one address however, where they will receive a hearing and a fair ruling: Israel’s Supreme Court.
Let’s hope Daniel Friedman fails in his attempt to change the system.