To Fortify the Supreme Court

The decision this week by Labor's Knesset faction to veto the proposed Basic Law on the powers of the court, which Friedmann wants to enact, shows that the party has shed its apathy and understands what it is up against.

"All persons are entitled to the protection of their life, body and dignity," states the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. But when the Supreme Court reviewed the government's decision to fortify the schools in Sderot and stated that the steps taken do not provide the necessary protection and that, according to the government's own decision, measures must be taken to provide protection, the justice minister viewed this as a process that will bring about a situation "in which the judicial branch embodies within itself also... the executive branch."

According to Daniel Friedmann, the enemy of the Israeli society and the enemy of the children of Sderot is not the Qassam rockets or the government's impotence in protecting the children against them, but the Supreme Court. The same person who in the 1970s suggested passing conditional death sentences on terrorists - a proposal that would have outraged even Israel's supporters - finds it difficult to grasp the tremendous service that the Supreme Court is rendering the State of Israel, and those who act in its name, under conditions of a continuing confrontation with the Palestinians.

There are some who believe that the only way the occupation will end is if those who make the decisions in Israel and those who implement them - the Israel Defense Forces commanders and soldiers, for example - will be reluctant to visit other countries for fear they will be subjected there to judicial procedures arising from their decisions and actions in their security posts. But anyone who is concerned about this possibility, which if realized will seriously hamper Israel's ability to act, must want Israel to have an independent Supreme Court that is not afraid to review government actions and Knesset legislation.

Sharp criticism was leveled in this space at the Supreme Court decision to leave intact the amendment to the Citizenship Law enacted by the Knesset that prevents unification between Israeli and Palestinian families. But it must be clear to both the proponents and the opponents of the Supreme Court decision that the procedure of judicial review that Knesset legislation undergoes greatly facilitates Israel's case in rebuffing allegations that it is tainted with elements of an apartheid state.

This is not the only reason, but it is an important one, why the government, and in particular the justice minister, need to bolster the status of the Supreme Court in the eyes of the public, the country and the world.

The import of that status is autonomy and independence, leeway to act and an attitude of support and respect. Indeed, the government's Basic Guidelines state: "The ultimate standing of the Israeli legal system, headed by the Supreme Court, will be ensured. The Government will preserve the high standing, as well as the range of functions and authorities of the Supreme Court, and will object to any change which may harm its standing, or to the way judges are appointed in the legal system."

It is difficult to understand what prompted the prime minister, who heads a government with these Basic Guidelines, to appoint Friedmann minister of justice.

As a newspaper commentator, Friedmann did much to undermine the court's status in the eyes of the public, calling for its range of activity to be decreased and for a change in the way judges are chosen.

The man who appointed Friedmann knew exactly what he would get. Was this a cynical or frivolous decision by Ehud Olmert, or perhaps made due to an extraneous interest, or did it reflect the prime minister's dissociation from his government's Basic Guidelines? We are not likely ever to know. What was disappointing at the time was the Labor Party's acceptance of the appointment.

The decision this week by Labor's Knesset faction to veto the proposed Basic Law on the powers of the court, which Friedmann wants to enact, shows that the party has shed its apathy and understands what it is up against, and also that there is in the government a responsible element that grasps the state's interest in - and the importance of - the continued existence of the Supreme Court as it developed in Israeli democracy as an instrument to fortify and enhance that democracy - in our eyes and in the eyes of the world.