Loyal to Whom?

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's decision not to make a recommendation to President Shimon Peres on the request to lighten the punishment of former Shas minister Shlomo Benizri is puzzling and unacceptable.

The justice minister is supposed to embody, in his person and conduct, allegiance to the values of the rule of law. It is doubtful whether Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is up to the task. It seems his loyalty is not to the supremacy of the law, its institutions and customs, but to the strengthening of the governing coalition, Shas in particular.

This was blatantly evident when Neeman avoided making a recommendation to President Shimon Peres on the request to lighten the punishment of a former minister from Shas, Shlomo Benizri, who was convicted of bribery and whose prison sentence the Supreme Court extended to four years.

The Basic Law on The President of the State authorizes the president to pardon offenders and ease punishments. There is also a long-standing custom, not codified in law, under which the president considers the justice minister's recommendation before making a decision. To be implemented, the law requires the minister's signature after the president's ruling.

Neeman's decision not to make a recommendation is puzzling and unacceptable. His lack of support for the director of the Justice Ministry's pardons department, attorney Emmy Palmor, who opposed lightening Benizri's sentence, appears unreasonable and faulty. Palmor opposed easing the punishment partly because of the short time since Benizri entered jail, as has been reported by Haaretz's Tomer Zarchin.

Neeman's position on the matter comes after his sharp and unnecessary criticism last week of the Supreme Court ruling that required the addition of a woman to the Turkel Committee on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Neeman said the court should not have applied the Women's Equal Rights Law and intervened in the commission's makeup since its members were appointed because of their background and qualifications, not because of the law. This unfounded criticism did not consider the court's reasoning on the constitutional weight of the right to equality and the authorities' ongoing disregard of this right. In his remarks, Neeman betrayed the essence of his post. The justice minister is supposed to protect the judicial system and its rulings, not subject them to criticism welcomed by institutions for whom the rule of law is not a guiding principle.