Middle Israel: The verdict on Daniel Friedman

Whether or not police acted properly and whether or not Ramon acted legally, Ramon acted immorally

1107-middle (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Like Hamlet, who instead of killing his father's murderer accidentally killed the eavesdropping Polonius, so Justice Minister Daniel Friedman was tricked this week into assaulting the cops who had wiretapped his predecessor as part of the effort to indict Haim Ramon for forcefully kissing a young female employee in the Prime Minister's Office. In the spirit of the zeitgeist, whereby our political dramas are as predictable as earthquakes and as decipherable as cancer, we now got to see the Supreme Court and its conservative detractors suddenly on the same side of the battlefield, jointly confronting the man Olmert placed at the legal system's helm. True, there is plenty rotten in the legal kingdom that Friedman so desperately set out to reform. It takes no Sherlock Homes to wonder how it was that a citizen - whether the justice minister or the grocer next door - could be wiretapped without his lawyers being informed. It also takes no Lieutenant Colombo to wonder how it is that police habitually leak out reports about the most sensitive investigations in almost live broadcast. And it takes no anarchist to join scholars on the scales of Amnon Rubinstein, Shlomo Avineri and Ruth Gavison in questioning our Supreme Court's insistence that anything is judge-able. And it certainly takes no reactionary to question the incestuous system whereby the Supreme Court's justices get to install their doubles as their colleagues and their clones as their successors. That is why Friedman's underlying quest, to review the judiciary's clout and check it, is as legitimate and even commendable as it is beside the point. The point - that which a career academic like him can be forgiven for missing - is that he was taken for a ride by people who, unlike him, were not out to change the system, but to abuse it. FRIEDMAN'S APPARENT assumption, that Olmert would back him on reform, could only be harbored by a political rookie. Thirty-five years in public office have made it plain that Olmert is better at discussing reform than at delivering it. To him, Friedman's appointment was meant not to really change the way judges are appointed, or redefine what the Supreme Court does, or, let alone, shed new light on what the Rabbinical Courts do - or rather don't do; instead, it was meant to harass the system, make it feel uncomfortable and insecure while investigating, charging and sentencing so many members of Olmert's immediate circle, from his original finance and justice ministers to the man he placed at the helm of the Tax Authority and the woman who ran his office since 1974. The parallel journeys Friedman and his superior were taking are also what came into play this week, as he failed to pass in the cabinet a resolution that would have had the government itself probe the State Attorney's Office and Israel Police for improperly wiretapping Ramon. Friedman's proposal was about Ramon's charge that police, in cahoots with the legal system, wiretapped him without proper prior authorization and subsequent reporting. Considering that Ramon was indeed convicted and that as a consequence his career was damaged, there indeed is what to probe here, in terms of the situation's narrow legal aspect. The problem is that the very maneuvering of this discussion into the legal plane is absurd, because whether or not police acted properly and whether or not Ramon acted legally, Ramon acted immorally. And the immorality was not only in terms of the deed, but in terms of the circumstances. For the timing of Ramon's embrace of that woman was in those few fateful hours between the outbreak of mutual bombardments up north and the killing of eight IDF soldiers following the kidnapping of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. In other words, this - fooling around with a woman less than half his age while broadly smiling - is what Ramon found time to do when he knew full well that soldiers were bleeding in the battlefield and the people of Israel were awaiting his leadership. Can anyone in his right mind imagine Churchill, or for that matter Attlee, behaving similarly with the blitz approaching London? When Yitzhak Rabin saw war's approach he first collapsed, having fully understood the gravity of the situation, and then delivered victory. This aspiring prime minister first disparaged the entire situation, then saw our northern homefront collapse. Now, as if to prove that he has forgotten nothing and learned nothing, he is fooling a good man like Friedman into thinking that what he wants is legal exoneration. Wrong; what he want is political rehabilitation. This is what is really at stake here, not the police abuses, which are indeed an issue in their own right, but one that should not be treated in ways that serve the kind of emptiness that Ramon displayed just when this country needed seriousness, as the war's subsequent course so scathingly demonstrated. WHY, THEN, does Friedman cooperate with all this? Simple: he too, like the judges he so much likes to confront, sees only what is well within the legal lens. How paradoxical. Had he looked through the window beyond the bookshelves, Friedman would have understood that he is being used by a whole class of political misfits who are out to cling to power at all costs, even after failing as glaringly as they did in the Second Lebanon War and being charged with felonies as harsh as bribery, embezzlement and sexual misconduct. Had he looked through the window, Friedman would also have known before this week's vote what he so unfortunately learned only after it - namely, that he is no position to pass anything in the current system, as he lacks a partisan support base. Yet most importantly, had he not been so deeply juristic he would have understood that the ailments he so convincingly decries stem not from the judiciary's grabbing authority, but from the other branches' squandering it. Had the Knesset been staffed by personally elected fulltime legislators, and had the government been staffed by ministers who would last in their positions a good several years at least, then there would be clear legislation about issues that our legislature currently fears to reinvent. It follows, that Friedman is largely right in his diagnosis that we have too strong a judiciary, but wrong in his prognosis that ignores the other branches' weakness, corruption, and culture of deceit. In his fascinating biblical exegesis To Kill and Inherit, Friedman analyzes a host of lies like Jacob's to Isaac, Rachel's to Laban, Delilah's to Samson, and the people of Giveon to Joshua. Most of those lies, according to Friedman, were made in an ancient cultural setting where they were not necessarily seen negatively, and in fact could even win one respect. Surely, Friedman doesn't suggest we follow in their footsteps; does he? www.MiddleIsrael.com