All in Favor / Who's a Mafioso?

The dispute over the Petah Tikva bill that was passed for second and third reading yesterday is undoubtedly the most petty argument between Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. And this is no mean feat.

The Petah Tikva bill is even more marginal that the tenure bill, which is the only reform that Friedmann has managed to pass in the Knesset so far.

Since the dispute itself is so marginal, the interesting part of the debate on the bill was the shouting. For example, during the debate, the question of who was a mafioso came up.

"You sat like a mafioso with [former justice minister Meir] Sheetrit and [former Supreme Court] president Barak ," former Constitution Committee chair Michael Eitan (Likud) accused former Constitution Committee chair Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor).

A term such as mafioso requires a worthy response. "You're a member of the mafia that wants to destroy the Supreme Court of Justice," Pines retorted. He filed a request to change the bill's name to "a bill to destroy the courts."

MK Moshe Sharoni (Pensioners) argued that the Supreme Court president should not have to deal with management issues. "You've barely arrived in the Knesset. Have some respect," Pines put him in his place.

He predicted that, "In a year, there won't be a Pensioners [party] or anything. It's an imaginary, nothing party."

Sharoni said that bleeding-heart liberals like Meretz whip Zehava Galon belonged "together with [Balad MK Jamal] Zahalka at Abu Mazen's."

Galon replied that Sharoni belonged "with Nissim Zeev of Shas and the bird flu" (Zeev has compared homosexuality to bird flu).

The Petah Tikva bill is supposed to enable the Central District Court established by Friedmann in Petah Tikva to continue working. Due to a High Court of Justice ruling, the bill must be passed by March 1; therefore, it will be passed in second and third reading this week. Setting up a new court requires moving files and the question is who would be authorized to move files to a new court - only the minister or the minister with the president's consent.

Beinisch says the bill "interferes with the courts' work." Her supporters warn that granting the minister the authority could enable him to move files from one court to another according to the judges sitting in them. It would have been so easy to agree that the files would be moved with both the minister and president's consent.

But Dr. Guy Rotkopf, the minister's adviser, said a week ago at the Constitution Committee that Friedmann refuses to grant shared responsibility to the Supreme Court president, because, "You can't oust the Supreme Court president in new elections."

Likud whip Gideon Saar supported Beinisch's stand, but thought it best to compromise with Friedmann. The two agreed that the minister's authority to move files would be curtailed (Saar persuaded Friedmann that this authority could boomerang if the next minister were the president's lackey).

The committee approved the compromise yesterday. Saar believes this improves the bill considerably. "You've given this abomination the seal of legitimacy," Pines-Paz told him.