Analysis: Friedmann takes machete to Supreme Court

In the few short weeks since his appointment, Friedmann has turned three agenda items into bills.

Daniel Friedmann 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Daniel Friedmann 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of the most surrealistic comments by a public figure in the surrealistic world of Israeli public life reportedly came out of the mouth of Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann on the day of his highly controversial nomination by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. According to Haaretz, Friedmann tried to "console" those alarmed by the nomination of the self-described foe of the Supreme Court and the law enforcement system in its present state by declaring that his new position did not really provide him with much power. It was hard to understand why, if that was the case, Friedmann wanted the job in the first place. But if anyone took his declaration seriously, Friedmann has made it clear in the less than two months that he has served as justice minister that it was totally ingenuous. When Friedmann's predecessor, Haim Ramon, was appointed to the post, Friedmann made his far-reaching agenda vis-a-vis the Supreme Court clear in a column published in Yediot Aharonot. The agenda included putting an end to the court's right of judicial review of Knesset legislation, abolition of selecting Supreme Court presidents according to seniority and changes in the composition of the Judges Selection Committee. In the few short weeks since his appointment, Friedmann has turned all three agenda items into bills, which he intends to put before the Knesset as soon as possible. The Supreme Court has come under increasing criticism these past few years. Today, not only the ultra-Orthodox, the religious Zionist right and secular nationalists oppose the court. The opposition has spread to moderates both in and out of the Knesset who believe that the court, in its review of administrative decisions and Knesset legislation, has appropriated too much power. Friedmann belongs to the latter group, a moderate who believes the Supreme Court has simply gone too far. Nevertheless, in his latest proposal - changing the composition of the Judges Selection Committee - Friedmann seems to be out not just to curtail the Supreme Court's powers, but to humiliate it. Under his proposal, district court judges would outnumber the Supreme Court justices on the committee, as if to say that the retired district court presidents are more trustworthy than Supreme Court justices - even when it comes to appointments to the Supreme Court itself, a position none of them ever reached. Friedmann would reduce the representation of the Supreme Court on the Judges Selection Committee to one justice out of eleven! This is change with a vengeance - possibly in more ways than one. Furthermore, when it comes to electing Supreme Court justices, the number of politicians on the committee would increase to five, with as many as four from the governing parties. If Friedmann were afraid of a bloc of three Supreme Court justices representing a third of the Judges Selection Committee, he, for some reason, is opting for a bloc of four government representatives, slightly less than one third of the new 11-member committee. Friedmann's proposals may fall on willing ears. Whatever his motives may be for seeking these changes, he is catering to the wounded pride of many MKs who seem to take the court's claims to judicial review of legislation as a personal insult. Friedmann may have said that as justice minister, he had little authority. That was partly true. He cannot carry out the reforms he wants by himself. But it is not the Supreme Court he needs in order to do so. It is the Knesset, which is likely to be far more cooperative.