Ehud Olmert has not yet completed a year as prime minister, but he has already launched two wars: against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and against the legal establishment and the Supreme Court.
The first ended badly. The second, which began yesterday, has the potential to be no less dangerous for him.
Olmert's decision to appoint Professor Daniel Friedmann as justice minister is the most noteworthy act of his term of office, aside from the war in Lebanon. It signals Olmert's desire to reduce the power of the jurists who run the country via investigations, indictments and verdicts and embitter his life personally. It is also a form of revenge: Haim Ramon's revenge. It is hard to believe that Olmert did not consult Ramon and receive his blessing for the appointment of Friedmann - who, in last weekend's Yedioth Ahronoth, demolished the court's verdict in Ramon's indecency trial.
They say that Ehud Olmert is a good friend. This appointment, which assuredly brought a broad (and, these days, rare) smile to Ramon's lips, is the ultimate expression of their close friendship.
Appointing Friedmann as justice minister is like appointing Tali Fahima to head the Shin Bet security service or Tommy Lapid to head the rabbinical courts. The problem is not lack of knowledge - Friedmann is an important legal scholar - but the mutual antagonism between him and the justice system. The latter has two alternatives for coping with this blow: hunkering down in its bunker and waiting for the government to change, or speeding up criminal proceedings against Olmert and working with greater vigor to topple him, which would also bring about Friedmann's departure.
There is another problem with this appointment: Friedmann is not a politician. He does not know the Knesset - its balance of forces, what is or is not practical in the delicate relationship between the legal and political systems. As justice minister, he heads the ministerial committee on legislation, and therefore needs experience in this area, such as his predecessors had.
Paraphrasing journalist Uri Dan's famous comment about Ariel Sharon, one wag declared yesterday: "Whoever didn't want Ramon as justice minister got Daniel Friedmann." Compared to Friedmann, Ramon was a puppy dog. He threatened a few reforms and occasionally went a little wild, but he did no real harm. Friedmann's potential to cause damage is incomparably greater.
Olmert's associates said yesterday that the purpose of the appointment was "to restore the public's faith in the system." That is a worthy goal, but if the prophets prove right, and the "system" enters a period of brawling and mud-slinging, the public's faith in it - and in Olmert - will hardly increase.
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