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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former justice minister Daniel Friedmann and outgoing Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz clashed Tuesday in a no-holds-barred, face-to-face confrontation during a symposium at the Knesset on the issue of the government's ability to govern effectively.
Mazuz, who is due to retire on January 31, recently charged in an interview with the Israel Bar Association's monthly journal that Friedmann and current Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman were "opposition" ministers in the sense that they attacked, rather than defended, the judicial system.
Friedmann, who spoke first, said the problem was caused by the legal advisers of the ministries, including Mazuz himself.
"The legal advisers have agendas and policies," he said. "In every other country it is different. It is the ministers who have a policy and the civil servants who execute it. The determination of policy and the management of the state have effectively passed over to the senior echelon of the civil service."
Friedmann added that the attorney-general could not expect the backing of the justice minister "if there are foul-ups in the matters of [former Justice Minister Haim] Ramon and [former President Moshe] Katsav."
He also charged that Mazuz had not consulted with him about the Katsav investigation even though it was a matter of "public sensitivity."
He added that it was impossible for the government to govern effectively when prime ministers and ministers were constantly under investigation and when the investigations were conducted so slowly.
Friedmann also blamed the High Court of Justice for stymieing the government's effectiveness, or as he put it, "completely undermin[ing] state rule."
"High Court rulings assert that the court may intervene in any government decision on grounds of reasonability," said Friedmann. "There is no other country in which any government decision or appointment is open to judicial scrutiny."
As an example, he referred to the attorney-general's decision to reject the appointment of Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavi as head of the Israel Lands Administration, a decision which was later upheld by the High Court of Justice.
In his speech, Mazuz said if the best examples that Friedmann could come up with for the government's inability to govern effectively were the Lavi affair and the victorious opposition of the attorney-general and the police to Friedmann's demand for an investigation of serious wiretapping mistakes in the Ramon investigation, "these do not reflect problems regarding the ability to govern."
He said Lavi's appointment had been rejected because of racist remarks he made regarding Israeli Arabs and because police were investigating him for corruption allegations.
Mazuz also explained what he meant when he accused Friedmann of being a "contrary" justice minister.
"I didn't mean that he stood in opposition to me," Mazuz explained. "I said the minister was empowered to change and criticize the system.
"[However,] in principle, one expects the minister of the environment to protect the environment and not to say day after day that quality of the environment is nonsense. Friedmann saw his main duty as justice minister to attack the police, the state prosecution and the attorney-general. He was in opposition to his own job and to the aims of the ministry."
Mazuz added that the key problem regarding the government's ability to govern was the short lives of the governments themselves.
"The average tenure of ministers and their directors-general is a year and a half," he said, adding that this did not leave them enough time to establish a policy, prepare a program to achieve it, and implement the program.
This situation also caused ministers to be unwilling to make decisions on controversial matters, such as conversion to Judaism or tax deductions for communities in the periphery.
"The problem is in the structural flaws of the system and precisely at a time of political instability, the civil service serves as a stable anchor," said Mazuz. "That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, but the way to make improvements is not by demonizing the guardians of the law."