Media Matters: Judging by the coverage...

This week, the press got to play up an issue that had calmed down: the bench vs. Daniel Friedmann.

Mazuz friedmann 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Mazuz friedmann 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Daniel Friedmann is back in the headlines. Not that the justice minister, whose entire tenure has been characterized by controversy, ever really left the spotlight. But between the flare-ups spurred by his reforms and periodical fights with Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, there have been lulls. Here some background is in order. Just over two years ago, Friedmann was catapulted into infamy when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed him to replace then justice minister Haim Ramon. Ramon had resigned as a result of the "kissing-a-soldier-girl-after-a-photo-op" affair, which ended with a prosecution and guilty verdict. The purpose of Friedmann's appointment, if not already apparent to the public, became stunningly so - something which could be gauged at the time by the significance that was immediately attached to it on the part of opponents, among them most of the Hebrew press. Nor did Friedmann veil his intentions. The respected academic's views had been - and still were - clear on what he considered to be the ills of "judicial activism" on the one hand, and on the way in which Supreme Court justices are "anointed" on the other. So vociferous was he on this score, in fact, that the minute he assumed his post, he wrote a scathing attack in Yediot Aharonot on the process (and on the judges, the state attorney and the attorney-general) that led to his predecessor's conviction. This sparked speculation in the pundit-sphere as to whether Olmert hadn't selected Friedmann as an act of revenge against the Old Boys' Network that brought down Ramon, his close friend and confidant. That Friedmann, an Israel Prize laureate, might have been chosen by virtue of his credentials and genuine concern over the increasing intervention by the bench in the realm of politics, didn't figure into the fray. Much more attention was given to his critics, one of whom, retired Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin, went as far as to say that anyone who lays a hand on "his house" will have it cut off. Pretty Saudi Arabian for an illustrious left-wing court elder. Still, no one could deny that such statements made for sexy copy. Indeed, anything involving Friedmann could be counted on to fill a few pages of the dailies and choice slots on prime time TV. THEN CAME the elections for the 18th Knesset. The sigh of relief over the fact that, whatever the outcome, Friedmann was on his way out of the Justice Ministry, could be heard emanating from chambers throughout the Halls of Justice. Good riddance was in the air, and it was practically palpable. Like the attitude toward the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, the Friedmann era - ding-dong - was dead. This probably explains why his recommendation late last month to President Shimon Peres to pardon 80 defendants convicted of acts relating to their resistance to the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 elicited but a footnote in the local media, rather than a full-blown blitz. It also explains the almost flattering portrait of him on Ynet. In a February 25 article entitled "The great branches of government war," author Eliad Glickman posed the question: "What will we remember from the stormy Friedmann days, and will the revolution end with his term?" When somebody is on his way out, of course, it is easy to review his accomplishments, if not fondly, then at least with the respect awarded - and afforded - by retrospect. There was just one loose end that was being overlooked: Avigdor Lieberman. Though the Israel Beiteinu leader has said all along that he supports Friedmann's staying put in his job, this detail was not magnified by the media. They were too busy focusing on his "frightening" platform and the other of his coalition conditions. This is not true of their counterparts in the courts, however. As the coalition negotiations are now reaching what seems to be their final stretch, with Lieberman as key a figure as ever, the judges have grown green at the gills. According to a Ma'ariv expose on Tuesday, retired Supreme Court president Aharon Barak ran into his friend Labor chairman Ehud Barak in Eilat last weekend, and impressed upon him the need to join the Likud-led coalition - in order to make sure that the justice ministry doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Lieberman's, that is, and by extension, Friedmann's. Furthermore, according to the article, written by Ben Caspit and Maya Bengal, Aharon told Ehud that he was speaking not only for himself, but on behalf of many of his colleagues. Immediately afterward, Aharon Barak denied the claim with great indignation, saying that any intervention on his part would have been "highly unethical." Indeed. This did not prevent him, however - or other former justices mentioned in the article, such as Yitzhak Zamir - from reiterating their well-known objections to Friedmann. Ironically, then, though the Ma'ariv scoop should have blemished the reputations of judges - and served to back Friedmann's contentions all along that the bench's intervention in politics had gotten way out of hand - instead, what it did was give voice, yet again, to the assertions that Friedmann is a "danger to democracy," and that he has done severe damage to the standing of the "illustrious institution" that must be protected at all costs. Including if one of those costs is for Labor join the government, even when a majority of the party's members are opposed to doing so. Lieberman may be unwittingly shooting Friedmann in the foot by taking on the cause. But he is certainly aiding and abetting the court and its jesters by giving the media the means to tie them together in one neat package titled "perilous."