Some people have solid-gold reputations, and some have platinum ones. Take Shimon Peres. Whenever he is caught red-handed, you immediately begin hearing the argument, delivered in Shakespearean tones, that Peres is Israel's "senior statesman."
Another example is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who spends so much time destroying minds instead of using his brilliance, to paraphrase the Talmudic saying regarding great scholars, to build immense towers of logic and then destroy them. After every curse or utterance of a foul term, you will hear people say, "But he is a great Torah scholar."
Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann can now be added to this illustrious list. Hardly a day goes by without his making some weird statement, much like the naive son in the Passover Haggadah. However, it will be argued that Friedmann is a great jurist; so who am I to judge him?
Although only two months have elapsed since his cabinet appointment, we are all familiar with his "j'accuse" on many topics, yet we know nothing of his beliefs. Thus far, we have been unable to pry one declaration from him on an ethical issue worthy of a justice minister with a solid-gold reputation.
From the wealth of interviews he has granted, the comprehensive one in last Friday's Yedioth Ahronoth stands out. For a novice minister, he is very generous with discourse with the media, as if he feels he does not have long to be justice minister and, to paraphrase "The Ethics of the Fathers" (2:20), the day is short, and there is much demolition left to be done.
In that interview, he explains his plans to reinforce the Supreme Court: He will reinforce it by limiting its authority.
For those who do not understand his strategy, he explains: "The Supreme Court's hyper-activity is the result of the weakness of other agencies." In other words, if the government and the Knesset are weak, there is no alternative but to weaken the Supreme Court as well. Let's make everybody weak, come hell or high water.
Friedmann is not critical of the other ministers: "You will never hear me say one bad word about them." And he compliments the Knesset: "The present Knesset is on a higher level than the previous one." In his view, the war on corruption is "exaggerated" and is "undermining the democratic process." However, when the subject is Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and her colleagues, the inactive volcano begins erupting. His scholarly self-restraint evaporates and his dignified, academic tones vanish. The justice minister loses his calm, juridical demeanor. It is questionable whether the Judicial Appointments Committee, in its old or new composition, would ever have authorized his candidacy.
The issue of the committee's composition is interesting. Why are two retired district court judges preferable to two justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court? No worry, Friedmann has the answer: "The Nobel Prize committee does not consist exclusively of Nobel Prize winners." I am sure that my readers had no trouble understanding that point.
Friedmann knows how to change position in a flash, as if he were one of those slippery-as-an-eel lawyers whose solid-gold reputations (whom he very much wants to enhance) match their astronomical fees. Intellectuals in cabinet posts have always been suckers for marketplace merchants who would skin you alive for a pretty penny.
While being extremely scrupulous about the Supreme Court, he is ready to choose judges for the religious courts from the denizens of the marketplace, as long as they are relatives of a cabinet minister or a rabbi from Shas or Agudat Israel and have no formal legal training.
When did Friedmann discover all the pimples and flaws in the Supreme Court? Quite recently. Three years ago, to be exact, when Nili Cohen was disqualified: "Everything that goes on there was revealed. We all saw who is appointed there and who is not. It made me take a greater interest in this whole issue."
To remove any doubt, I - like Friedmann - think that Beinisch blundered when she ruled out Cohen's candidacy and gave a lame excuse. This was a mistake that is never too late to correct. Cohen could be a superb justice. Nevertheless, is it worthy of a 71-year-old to open wide his heavy eyes when a close friend has been insulted? And should the entire hall of justice be burned to the ground because of a mistake that will never reoccur?
Yes, contrary to what Marlon Brando says in "The Godfather," everything is personal. To paraphrase Isaiah 62:1, "For Nili Cohen's sake Friedmann will not hold his peace ... until the righteousness thereof goes forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth." The justice minister is burning - lava-hot.
The biblical Daniel, the interpreter of dreams, was thrown into the lions' den. Daniel the justice minister has been thrown into the foxes' den. Yet, it is difficult to fathom why a genius like Friedmann, so brilliant and such an expert in his field, is prepared to be the tail of "the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines," mentioned in the Song of Songs. Why is the disciple of great scholars prepared to serve the disciples of fools and corrupt individuals who are scheming to ruin the only properly running Israeli institution left?
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