Barak Is No Barack

Ehud Barak made a mistake when he decided to remain in Olmert's government. The defense minister missed a one-time opportunity to redefine himself and his party.

Ehud Barak made a mistake when he decided to remain in Olmert's government. The defense minister missed a one-time opportunity to redefine himself and his party. The day after the Winograd report, Barak was supposed to shape a formative moment that would give the Israelis what Barack Obama is now giving the Americans: a sweeping sense of change and hope.

But as opposed to the American Barack, the Israeli Barak preferred political mechanics to moral leadership. In his surrender to Olmert, he labeled himself as a defense technocrat, and his party as a party without a backbone and without an agenda. With his own hands, Barak is ensuring that Labor remains Kadima's dishrag, and that Benjamin Netanyahu is the only alternative for heading the government.

The first arena in which Ehud Barak's mistake is reflected is the law. From the moment that the chairman of Labor removed the threat from Olmert's cabinet, which is characterized by the alliance of capital and government, the capital-government justice minister became powerful. What Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann accomplished in the past two weeks is very impressive. He attacked former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak in an unprecedented manner, and mercilessly battered the incumbent President Dorit Beinisch. He rejected out of hand any compromise proposal regarding the future structure of the legal system, and tried to promote a political deal with Shas that would turn the rabbinical courts into alternative civil courts.

Friedmann did not demand a cooling off period for a criminal lawyer with clients in the crime world, whom he appointed this week as a district judge. Friedmann ruled that international courts are better for Israel that its own Supreme Court. Friedmann initiated a series of bills with one intention: to overturn the independence of the Israeli justice system.

Prof. Friedmann began serving as justice minister a year ago last week. This year has for the most part been described a war of D. versus D. A year of mud-slinging between Minister Daniel and President Dorit.

However, the truth is even worse. Friedmann's crusade is not only personal, it is institutional. Its goal is not only to harm the president of the Supreme Court, but to undermine the system that she heads. By breaking the internal order of the rule of law, Minister Friedman is trying to destroy it. By shattering the organizational hierarchy of the court, Minister Friedman is trying to turn it into a dependent and violated court. The court that the justice minister is trying to establish is a Winograd-style court: appointed by the government, loyal to the government and obedient to the government's demands.

The proposals being raised by the justice minister are localized and private. They deal with the length of the judges' terms and with the composition of the committees that appoint judges and the powers of the various courts. Ostensibly these are boring subjects that are not of great public interest. But the truth is that behind the abundance of Friedman-proposals lies an ambitious attempt to bring about a revolution in the Israeli regime. A revolution that will turn Israeli judges into the serfs of the justice minister. A revolution that will lead to a situation where every judge will know that his superiors and those who appoint him are politicians and people with vested interests. A revolution that will lead to a situation where the rule of law will no longer stand in the way of capital-government.

In the 1990s the Supreme Court was attacked by the lunatic right and the ultra-Orthodox. That attack was finally repelled by Labor under Barak, whose victory in 1999 is first and foremost a victory of the defense of the law.

Today the Supreme Court is under attack by powerful factors in the media and the business community, who support Friedmann in the hope that he will put an end to the war against corruption. However, even today the task of defending the courts is the task of Labor headed by Barak. The only way in which the defense minister will be able to reduce the damage he caused himself and his party is to espouse the cause of the battle against Friedmann.

Only a determined demand to replace the justice-destroying minister can restore the ethical dimension to Labor. Only a redefinition of Ehud Barak as a defender of the legacy of Aharon Barak can prevent him from becoming the adjutant of big money.

If Labor under Barak once again becomes the party that defends the basic values of Israeli democracy, it will be able to check the Friedmann revolution, to separate itself from Kadima and to give new hope to its followers. Not hope like the hope of Obama, but nevertheless the hope of Barak.