Background: Neeman is no stranger to government service

The former finance minister is now headed to the Justice Ministry as a compromise between Likud and Israel Beiteinu.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
March 15, 2009 00:41
2 minute read.
Background: Neeman is no stranger to government service

neeman 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Attorney Yaakov Neeman, 69, who has emerged as the compromise candidate to serve as justice minister in Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's government, is no stranger to politics - or to serving under Netanyahu and performing delicate balancing acts to satisfy Likud partner Shas. Neeman's name came up in talks between the Likud and Israel Beiteinu as a possible alternative to current Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. Israel Beiteinu had pushed to retain the crusading incumbent in his position, but some Likud MKs began speaking out against Friedmann, making it harder for Netanyahu to keep him in the position. MK Reuven Rivlin, the Likud's candidate to become Knesset speaker, and the man who pushed to name Neeman instead, described the Tel Aviv-based attorney as "Friedmannism without Friedmann." Neeman is seen as willing to carry out reforms within the ministry, but does not have the problematic personal relations with the upper echelons of the justice system that Friedmann has. Neeman has been working in private practice since 1999 as a partner at Herzog, Fox and Neeman, the nation's largest law firm, which he founded in 1972 along with Chaim Herzog, later the sixth president of the state, and Michael Fox. Neeman is no stranger to government service. In 1979, he was appointed director-general of the Finance Ministry, a position he held for two years. He then returned to private practice, until, in 1996, he was appointed by then-prime minister Netanyahu to serve as justice minister. He only held that post for a short time, resigning to face allegations that several years earlier he had suborned a witness and later submitted a false affidavit in the affair - charges that were dismissed by the Tel Aviv District Court, which sharply criticized the prosecution for having brought them in the first place. In July 1997, after Dan Meridor resigned from the Likud, Netanyahu reshuffled the cabinet, and appointed Neeman as finance minister. Although this would be his third cabinet post, Neeman has never been an MK. He is a significant figure for Israel Beiteinu, which seeks reform on issues of conversion and marriage. In 1997, he chaired the Neeman Committee, which was tasked with reaching a compromise on conversions. In delivering the committee's conclusions in January 1998, Neeman emphasized that he was not offering a compromise, but rather a breakthrough in closing gaps between different streams of Judaism. Neeman's committee came to unanimous agreement that conversions to Judaism would be performed by the Chief Rabbinate, but that converts would first be allowed to study at an institute that included Reform, Orthodox and Conservative teachers and was administered by the Jewish Agency. The ability of Neeman, who is Orthodox, to reach compromises between different streams of Judaism is likely to be a key asset in Netanyahu's administration, where Shas and Israel Beiteinu are at loggerheads regarding questions of conversion and marriage. Neeman is one of Israel's leading tax attorneys and specializes in corporate law and taxation of multinational transactions, constitutional law issues, hi-tech start-ups and venture capital. A Tel Aviv native, he attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, earning his bachelor's in law in 1964. A year later, he enrolled in New York University, where he earned a master's of law in 1965, and a doctorate in law in 1968.


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