Analysis: Friedmann's double standard

The justice minister's concerns for pluralism don't extend to the religious courts system.

friedmann mazuz 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
friedmann mazuz 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Daniel Friedmann may have accepted the job of justice minister to wrest the country from the talons of the "rule of law clique," now headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. But if so, he has proven that his concerns for pluralism and fair play do not extend to the religious court system, for which he also has ministerial responsibility. In the few, short months he has served as justice minister, Friedmann has introduced far-reaching changes in the procedures governing the election of judges and initiated legislation aimed at weakening the power of the Supreme Court. In unabashed Orwellian newspeak, Friedmann unashamedly declares that the changes he is introducing are meant to strengthen the court system, including the Supreme Court. But when it comes to the Dayanim Election Committee, a la Friedmann, all is apparently well. Not only are reforms unnecessary, but there is no need even to adhere to existing procedures. Otherwise, how could Friedmann tell the High Court of Justice on Tuesday he believed that "in the circumstances of the situation, justice does not require acting in response to the petitions or other [procedural] flaws that have been claimed, if indeed there were any, [since] they do not have a bearing on the heart of the matter and, furthermore, the principle of relative invalidity should apply." According to attorney Sharon Shenhav, one of two Israel Bar representatives on the 10-person Dayanim Election Committee, the committee was supposed to elect 15 dayanim out of 53 candidates at its meeting on March 18. She said four of the 10 committee members were new and had not met any of the candidates face to face. Other candidates had been interviewed more than three years before. According to the proper procedures for electing dayanim, subcommittees consisting of some of the plenary committee members are supposed to interview each candidate, write up a report and submit their opinions. The reports and opinions on all the candidates are supposed to be given to all the committee members before the vote so that they can make informed choices. No such reports or opinions were available to the committee on the day of the vote, Shenhav said. In case anyone has forgotten, Friedmann, and some of his supporters on the Judges Election Committee, have charged that the long and exhaustive questionnaire new candidates for the judiciary have to fill out as part of their application requirements is insufficient. So detailed was their criticism that in one of the committee's first meetings under the new justice minister, Friedmann demanded that the applicants include their law school grades in their curriculum vitae. He also insisted that every new candidate be required to take a five-day training course to determine their suitability for the judiciary. On the other hand, in the case of the qualifications for dayanim and the procedures in the Dayanim Election Committee, Friedmann applied different standards. He decided that even though the members of the plenary committee barely had a clue as to who they were choosing, it was not a flaw that had a bearing on "the heart of the issue." Like the most hardened of politicians, Friedmann must have cut a deal with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who probably told him something like this: "You do what you want with the secular judicial system and the Supreme Court as long as you don't upset my coalition applecart with Shas." For the good of the rule of law in this country, Friedmann apparently agreed.