It took the Knesset three secret-ballot rounds last Monday to elect Jerusalem
District Court Judge Joseph Shapira as the new state comptroller. On July 4,
he’ll take over from the hard-hitting, headline-making and often confrontational
incumbent, Micha Lindenstrauss.
Shapira was unequivocally the choice of
most of the coalition, newcomer Kadima included. The fact that he wasn’t a
shoo-in proves that the enlarged coalition isn’t necessarily a steamroller.
Nonetheless, no far-reaching conclusions can be drawn from this case.
one thing, Shapira is the first candidate for controller in decades who had
competition. Most his predecessors faced no rivals. Moreover, contrary to the
commentators’ buildup, personal choices and secret ballots in the Knesset plenum
are unpredictable and not conducive to factional control.
highly premature, to say the least, to predict that Shapira will be putty in the
hands of the parties that favored him. During his years on the bench Shapira
evinced an overall liberal mindset with significant emphasis on human rights and
the supremacy of the rule of law. To assume that he’ll turn into a lackey is
more than unfair.
Besides, high office in itself has been known to
generate unforeseen dynamics that belie superficial forecasts and popular
Warren Burger, chief justice of the United States from
1969-1986 (president Richard Nixon’s nominee), is a classic example. Despite his
marked conservative inclinations and reputation as a strict constructionist, his
tenure produced milestone reforms of a distinctly liberal nature.
to home, the fresh appointment of Asher Grunis as our Supreme Court president
was hyped as presaging a fundamental shift from the ultra-interventionist stance
of his predecessor Dorit Beinisch. So far, however, no marked departure can be
discerned. If anything, all of Grunis’s recent controversial rulings appear to
faithfully toe the Beinisch line.
Differences in temperament
notwithstanding, it’ll be no less difficult for Shapira to break away from
Lindenstrauss’s legacy abruptly and sharply. The astute political money is on
Shapira trying hard to live up to the high expectations that the proactive and
at times hyperactive Lindenstrauss has created. The pressure on Shapira will be
to maintain continuity rather than to opt for a strident
Lindenstrauss was a maverick from the outset. He was the first
comptroller in a long time not to be picked from among the ranks of retired
Supreme Court justices. That spotlighted him as his own man. Notably, Shapira
like Lindenstrauss earned his experience in a lower court.
Lindenstrauss took office seven years ago he announced his intention to name
names and to not allow anyone in high places to get away with
He vowed not to be a toothless tiger, as many before him proved
to be. Their voluminous reports were often ignored despite having pinpointed
Lindenstrauss didn’t let his output gather dust on
He conducted unprecedented public opinion campaigns
and – for better or worse – went after corruption with great hoopla. As he
became the most unlikely of media stars, so his power grew and he emerged as a
fearinspiring force for officialdom to contend with.
It’s unlikely that
this trend can suddenly be fully reversed, much as many of Shapira’s backers may
ardently wish he’d do just that. Doubtless many in our top echelons looked
askance at Lindenstrauss and included him in their overall exasperation with our
super-activist judiciary, though the comptroller clearly isn’t part of the legal
It would be no disaster should it transpire that Shapira isn’t
as media-savvy as Lindenstrauss uncannily has been.
That too can
sometimes get in the way of impartiality, as was amply evident in
Lindenstrauss’s sensationalist handling of the Mount Carmel Fire probe. But
Lindenstrauss’s tenacity is certainly worth emulating, as in the ongoing Harpaz
Reports on both the above are still to be published and the
latter is plainly being held up through blatant delaying tactics by some of
those who need to respond to the draft version. We dare hope that Lindenstrauss
will somehow manage to complete his tasks and not leave hot potatoes to his