Analysis: How Friedmann got tangled up in the dayanim fiasco

Gerrymandering and nepotism have long been an integral part of the appointment process within the religious establishment. The way in which the haredi parties fixed the elections of 15 new dayanim (religious court judges) two months ago didn't surprise anyone; what was less expected was the way in which new Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann allowed himself to become a part of it. Prof. Friedmann, Israel Prize laureate, legal luminary and fierce critic of the cronyism going on within the Supreme Court, should have been the last person to support such a blatant political dictate. None of the ideals of transparency, meritocracy and impartiality that Friedmann believes should dictate the selection of judges in the regular state courts were present in the meeting in which the panel headed by Friedmann rubber-stamped the list drawn up by two senior rabbis. The refusal of Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to defend Friedmann's decision against the petitions to the High Court of Justice is almost unprecedented and is a stinging slap in the face for the minister. How could such a fiasco have happened to an experienced expert such as Friedmann. There are three theories going around legal circles. The first is based on Friedmann's well-known ultra-secular views and fierce opposition to the rabbinical establishment. According to this view, he has no regard for the Rabbinical Courts and therefore didn't really care which candidates he was supporting. On the contrary, let them be as incompetent and corrupt as can be, that would only serve to further lower the prestige of the Rabbinical Courts and to estrange them from society. The second theory is that Friedmann was merely carrying out Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's orders. Olmert needs the continued support of Shas for his coalition and is also trying to obtain the backing of at least part of United Torah Judaism's MKs Rabbis Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Ovadia Yosef control these lawmakers' votes, and the list of dayanim approved by the panel contained 12 of their preferred candidates. A third explanation could be that Friedmann just isn't much of a politician. He might be a brilliant legal theoretician, but making the transition from the ivory towers of the academy to the rough world of politics at the age of 70 takes much more than a swearing-in ceremony at the Knesset. There isn't a text-book answer for most of the dilemmas that a minister has to face every day. Friedmann's surprise appointment as justice minister three months ago was heralded as an earthquake. He was seen as a clear threat to Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch's hegemony. But so far, he hasn't succeeded in making any fundamental changes, his lack of political experience showing in his inability to take on the judges' mafia. As a personal appointment of Olmert, his future as justice minister is far from clear. He might not have much more time to put his reforms in motion. If his mishandling of the dayanim affair is anything to go by, his tenure could well go down as yet another bizarre footnote in the history of Israel's misgovernance.