The four candidates for Kadima's leadership are in the home stretch of their party's primary campaign this week. And the platform on which they are all more or less running is honesty, public ethics and respect for the fundamental values of the rule of law.
Tzipi Livni has for years made such ethics a genuine part of her credo, to the point where she is liable to refuse to allow friends to treat her to a cup of coffee. She has also worked hard to inculcate ethical norms in the government in practice. Shaul Mofaz is careful in various contexts that are less well-known to the public, on minor matters as well as major ones. As chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, he displayed great sensitivity to human dignity and equality for women. Meir Sheetrit, during his term as justice minister, demonstrated respect for the justice system and advanced various issues connected to it. And Avi Dichter honorably faced down criticism of the police's recent recommendation to indict Ehud Olmert, though he has not yet internalized the High Court of Justice's special role in Israel's system of government.
The problem is that in the plethora of interviews that all four candidates have granted, it is hard to find any significant statements about the justice system, which has suffered such severe shocks over the last year. Nor has the media displayed sufficient interest in this issue, which is of great importance. Granted, the candidates all opposed Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's initiative to limit the High Court's powers, which the cabinet ultimately approved. However, they did not make their voices heard loud and clear.
In one interview, Livni said she saw no problem with the fact that her campaign chairman, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, was currently on trial for electoral bribery and political appointments. Admittedly, these are offenses of which many are guilty, and they are not the most serious crimes on the scale of public corruption. But it is hard to overlook this. Livni promised to sharpen the rules on everything to do with public ethics, but has never presented the main points of her program.
As for Friedmann's views, and the current premier's evident ability to live with them, Livni said that she agrees with some of these views, and made do with general statements about the need to strengthen the law-enforcement agencies. It would be interesting to know which of Friedmann's views she finds acceptable.
Livni has not hidden her opinion that the High Court must behave with restraint on clearly political issues, and has reiterated the position she espoused as justice minister regarding the need to add people with different judicial worldviews to the court. She supports a worthy proposal to separate the role of head of the prosecution from the role of the government's legal adviser.
At first glance, it seems reasonable that Livni, even if she is not happy with everything that goes on in the High Court, would prefer to forgo the services of Friedmann, whose raison d'etre is his uncompromising war against the court, and who aspires to implement an "anti-constitutional revolution" to undo the constitutional revolution that has taken root in Israel over the last 16 years. Livni says she would continue to work with the justice minister "under certain circumstances," but has never bothered to explain to the public what those circumstances are.
Mofaz - who, like Livni, favors changing the system of government - says a suitable justice minister would be someone "who understands the justice system, is well-versed in it and has a relatively well-developed sense of justice." He also considers it possible that Friedmann might remain as justice minister "under certain circumstances, coalition circumstances" that he has never clarified. It is hard to understand this statement, given that Friedmann was put into his position by Olmert to advance an agenda against the Supreme Court and the justice system, despite having no political support whatsoever.
Mofaz favors what he calls "constitutional democracy," but has never detailed what he means by this term. He properly voted in the cabinet against the initiative to limit the High Court's powers, and like Livni, he supports splitting the attorney general's role in two so that the attorney general would no longer head the prosecution. The question, of course, is whether he - or any of the others - would actually do anything on this matter.
Friedmann himself, as usual, sounded relaxed in a wide-ranging interview he granted to Yaron Dekel on the radio program "It's All Talk." He claimed that the police's recommendation to indict a prime minister need not prevent the premier in question from remaining in office, adding: "It's impossible to accept a situation in which the police oust a prime minister." He did not, according to the interview's transcript, refer to Olmert's case specifically, but the implication was loud and clear.
Friedmann complained about the Supreme Court, saying it had asserted the power to overturn Knesset legislation without ever being granted this power by law, and attacked statements made by Supreme Court justices in the court's defense. To the question that is troubling many - namely, whether he will remain in his post - he replied: "Let's see what the situation is. I don't know whether I'll continue in this job."
Friedmann's continued tenure would clearly be problematic. Yet thus far, the candidates have evaded addressing this issue seriously. Before the voters cast their ballots, all the candidates must make clear statements about an issue of vital importance to a liberal democracy that respects the values of governmental integrity.
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