Politicians, Judges Take Sides in Friedmann-Beinisch Spat

An initiative by the Justice Minister regarding search committees for appointment of judges unleashes a judicial-political firestorm.

Gil Ronen,

Beinisch vs. Friedmann
Beinisch vs. Friedmann

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch has sent a public letter to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann in which she attacks him with unprecedented vitriol. The letter, copies of which were sent to the media, accuses Friedmann of purposely destroying the judicial system's present structure, undermining Beinish's own status and creating a situation in which court presidents are dependent on the Justice Minister. Friedman's camp called it "absurd" that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would respond to a professional letter through a media press release.

Beinisch's ire was aroused by Friedmann's initiative to create search committees for District Court and Magistrates' Court presidents and their deputies independent of the Supreme Court. Beinisch writes that it is "unthinkable" to carry out reforms such as these without consulting with her first. True, the appointments are within Friedmann's purview, she writes, but they require her approval. Therefore, "the legality of the proposed regulations is in doubt, and they fly in the face of the constitutional tradition which the judicial system has followed for many years."

"The proposals you have circulated are another link in a chain of steps you have been taking, which have caused strife and discord and are intended to destroy the present structure of the judicial system and chip away at the status of the institution of Supreme Court President," writes Beinisch.
'The proposals... have caused strife and discord and are intended to destroy the... judicial system'

Beinisch goes on: "The justification you gave publicly, that you want to safeguard the [lower court] presidents' independence, is puzzling. Is it in fact proper that the [lower court] presidents be dependent on the minister, that is, the executive branch, just so they are not under the responsibility of the Chief Justice? Is this independence?" 

"Beyond all this," she adds, "the suggestions you have raised show that you are ill acquainted with the court system and the roles of the presidents and deputy presidents... I feel sorry for this important system, which is one of the foundation stones of the democratic regime in Israel, that is under constant threats of being weakened; when instead of dealing with its needs and problems, you are advancing dangerous plans for the wrong reasons."

She summed up thus: "I still hope you will have the strength to collect yourself and protect the judicial system, and that you will not hurry to harm an infrastructure that was laid and nurtured since the founding of the country, for the construction of a professional and independent judicial system."
'It is unfortunate that every suggestion for improving the system is seen by Beinisch as a step that causes discord which chips away at her status'

Friedmann Confidantes: Why the Press Release?
Minister Friedmann's official response to President Beinisch's broadside against him Wednesday was a single sentence, in which he said that ever since he was appointed Justice Minister, he has acted "to strengthen and improve the judicial system and to increase the public's faith in it."

The unofficial response, attributed to "sources close to Friedmann" or "Friedmann's bureau," was that "we are sorry to read the letter by the Supreme Court President, who chose to answer a topical letter of consultation by the Justice Minister with a press release."

"It is absurd that the Minister made a suggestion and consulted with the President, with the purpose of distancing the selection of [court] presidents and their deputies from politics, and preventing a situation in which they are chosen by the Minister and President alone," Friedmann's "confidantes" explained. "Now she is accusing us of politics? It is unfortunate that every suggestion for improving the system is seen by Beinisch as a step that causes discord which chips away at her status."

Eitan Supports Friedmann, Pines Defends Beinisch
MK Michael Eitan (Likud), the former Chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, voiced support Wednesday for Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's initiative to appoint search committees for court presidents and deputy presidents. Eitan said that the Courts Law gives Minister Friedmann the authority to appoint presidents and deputy presidents, and therefore he also has the authority to create such search committees – not just for District Court and Magistrate Court presidents, but for Supreme Court presidents as well.

Eitan voiced wonder at Beinisch's anger and said that "a transparent, proper search committee will be dozens of times better than the nepotistic processes that currently corrupt the system."

MK Ofir Paz-Pines (Labor) called upon Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to intervene in the confrontation
'Go back to where you came from,' said Cheshin.
between Beinisch and Friedmann. "If Olmert does not intervene," Paz-Pines said, "the Labor Party must declare a coalition crisis."

He explained that "Beinisch's letter signals distress in the face of the subversive action by Minister Friedmann, who is conducting himself like a low level politician and doing irreversible damage to the justice system."

Cheshin, Dorner Go On Attack
Former Supreme Court Judges Dalia Dorner and Mishael Cheshin attacked the Justice Minister on the matter Wednesday as well.

"The Government of Israel is destroying the status of the Supreme Court and the independence of the judicial system," Dorner said in an interview for Army Radio. "If the court is not independent we will not have the democracy we knew," she said. "The government is trying to destroy the judicial branch and the public needs to prevent this.

Retired Supreme Court Judge Mishael Cheshin joined Dorner in defending Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. Speaking on Channel 2, Cheshin called upon Friedmann to resign, saying "go back to where you came from." Ever since Friedmann's appointment, Cheshin said, "the system is in an unending frenetic state, something psychedelic, like in a nightclub."

"In a surrealistic play like this, it is no wonder Presdient Beinisch burst out the way she did," said Cheshin. "Go home, leave us be," he said again, addressing Friedmann.

Friedmann responded to Cheshin's verbal assault by saying "there was no topical response to the Minister's idea. The Justice Minister never resorted to Cheshin's style and never called upon Beinisch to resign."

Legal Organizations Differ
The Land of Israel Legal Forum issued a statement encouraging Friedmann to continue with his reform of the justice system. "It is perfectly legitimate for a minister to carry out reforms within his realm of authority," said Director Nachi Eyal. "Delegitimizing that authority upsets the balance of powers and is a danger to democracy."

Eyal also had sharp criticism for former judges, saying they used their past affiliation with the court to advance their political goal of carrying out a "targeted killing" on Friedmann.

The Movement for Quality in Government, on the other hand, called for Olmert to fire Friedmann at once, saying the minister is harassing the law enforcement organs and, chiefly, the Supreme Court, and is causing a drop in public confidence in these institutions.