Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has been very careful until now to dampen the fires that burned so brightly around the law enforcement system, particularly the Supreme Court and the state prosecution, under his predecessor Daniel Friedmann.
Unlike Friedmann, Neeman did not present a slew of highly controversial and polarizing legislation aimed, primarily, at weakening the Supreme Court, from the moment he took office. He has not feuded in public with Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch but has, on the contrary, spoken of her with great respect. Perhaps more importantly, unlike Friedmann, he has spoken with her.
Unlike Friedmann, who is rigorously honest and direct to the point of tactlessness, Neeman is a consummate negotiator, which means he believes in compromise.
He proved that in his first public test when, like a magician who pulls a rabbit out of a hat, he managed to get the deeply divided Judges' Selection Committee to agree to the appointment of three new justices to the Supreme Court. Although not all three choices were to Beinisch's personal liking, just as they were not all to the personal liking of the right-wingers on the selection committee, both sides agreed that the choices were excellent.
Neeman was directly responsible for the achievement, though it must be added that he was helped by a recent Knesset law which stated that a minimum of seven of the nine members of the committee were required to elect a Supreme Court justice.
Now Neeman faces a bigger test and one whose ramifications will likely be felt for decades to come. The justice minister must decide whether or not to split the responsibilities of the attorney-general, who is currently both legal adviser to the government and the state's chief prosecutor.
Toward the end of his tenure, Friedmann proposed a far-reaching bill to divide the responsibilities and appoint two different officials to perform the two tasks.
Friedmann's bill was immediately suspect because of its author. In addition to his enmity for the allegedly activist Supreme Court, he was also an outspoken critic of the attorney-general and the state prosecution, whom he accused of exploiting their power to rid themselves of justice ministers or potential justice ministers they did not like. His list included Neeman himself, as well as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and former justice minister Haim Ramon.
Nevertheless, the issue of splitting the jobs of the attorney-general should not be understood as a battle between the "rule of law gang," as outspoken supporters of the courts and the state prosecution are known, versus those, like Friedmann, who believe non-elected officials have usurped powers rightfully belonging to the legislative and executive branches.
Those who oppose the split and warn that it will weaken both powers of the attorney-general - to give independent advice to the cabinet and to prosecute politicians - include former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, current attorney-general Menahem Mazuz and many other "gang" members.
But those who favor splitting the responsibilities include other charter members, including Hebrew University law professor Mordechai Kremnitzer and Tel Aviv University law professor Zeev Segal.
However, Kremnitzer emphasized at a recent Israel Democracy Institute panel discussion that he would only support the division of responsibilities if the autonomy and integrity of both the legal adviser and the chief state prosecutor were maintained.
Friedmann tried to use the split to weaken the legal adviser to the government. The question is, will Neeman do the same? The fact that he is reportedly inclined to divide the jobs does not mean that seeks to weaken them. During that same panel discussion Neeman, like a wise old rabbi, told panelists on both sides of the divide, "You are right, and you are right." The question is, can he split the position - as he is reportedly inclined to do - without hurting either function, and thereby satisfy both sides? Furthermore, does he want to?
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