The debate about the Supreme Court is a worthy one. In a democratic society, there should be an open and critical discussion of the role of the court, its authority and its rulings. Only such an ongoing discussion can ensure the balance between governance and justice, between majority rulings and minority rights, between the rule of the people and the rule of law.
In Israel at 60, such discussion is particularly necessary. In a state that lacks both a constitution and an established tradition of democracy, the issue of the court is a critical one. In a state that is threatened and is an occupier, and which underwent a controversial constitutional revolution in the not-distant past, there is full justification for attempting to define, by consensus, both the supremacy of the law and its boundaries.
In Daniel Friedmann's year as justice minister he has proved that he is not the appropriate person to conduct the appropriate debate on the rule of law. In the past 12 months, Friedmann sought not to conduct a dialogue with the Supreme Court, but to break it. He attempted not to define the authority of the Supreme Court, but to empty the court of its authority. His effort was two-pronged: On the one hand, he struck a fatal blow to the public's trust in the legal system. On the other, he cast a shadow of terror over the entire system. He told the public that the judges seek power for themselves, rather than safeguarding values. He made it clear to the judges that he himself is the power. Friedmann undertook a series of measures aimed at ensuring that the politicians, and not the judges, shape the court, its composition and its conduct.
The Friedmann phenomenon is so outrageous as to defy comparison. To a certain extent it is as if the governor of the Bank of Israel were to call for interest rates to be set by the Knesset Finance Committee, or the defense minister were to denounce the Israel Defense Forces, dissolve its command structure and encourage the divisional commanders to defy the chief of staff's orders.
While he holds the title of professor, Friedmann is a populist gone berserk. He assails a critical and delicate elitist structure as if it was a bastion of evil. He makes dangerous use of the battering rams of dirty politics and mass media, in order to shatter the central pillar of Israeli progressiveness.
The question of Friedmann's motivation is titillating but insignificant. More important is the question of the damage that this flawed minister might leave behind. The troubling things Friedmann told Yedioth Aharonoth last weekend give a clear answer to the question. If Friedmann's tenure continues, there is a real threat to the independence of the judiciary. Judges will find themselves subordinate to the wishes of an unrestrained government. Citizens will find themselves at the mercy of a ruling authority that leaves no traces. The Friedmann legacy will pave the way to reshaping Israeli democracy into a hollow democracy.
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