Israel Update

I haven’t written a post on current events in Israel in a long time, so I will try here to play catch up, even if it turns out to be very long.

Security:

Last week the Knesset approved the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as the new IDF Chief of Staff. I’ve read a lot of background articles on him, and it seems that he is very respected, not only by the top brass who have worked with him, but by the “regular guys” on the bottom too. A story is told about him that says a lot about the man’s character. It seems that during a battle in south Lebanon, his commanding officer was seriously injured at the beginning of the operation. In addition, the intelligence that they had was wrong, and the enemy was positioned above the group and firing at them fiercely. Soldiers were finding cover behind rocks and were unsure of what to do. Ashkenazi then literally rose to the occasion. Standing tall despite the gunfire, and assessing the situation quickly, he took control, gave orders, and turned the tables on the enemy. The IDF soldiers then went on to finish the operation successfully.

Much has been written about the fact that he did not rise through the ranks in the elite units, but started out in Golani. This means that he is an infantry man, and not a pilot like his predecessor Chalutz. He has a lot of battle experience in south Lebanon, and supposedly knows the terrain like the back of his hand.

It is no secret that the IDF was humiliated in the last war. The assumption that they could win the war from the air, and not put boots on the ground, was proven disastrous. Now there is a man in charge who knows how to lead the regular army. Yes, the elite pilots do a great job, as do the elite terror units that can land behind enemy lines and perform a complicated operation. But in some circumstances there is no choice but to bring in the regular army. The IDF is training now for that situation.

Turning to the south of Israel, there have been media reports that the army is gearing up for a major battle in Gaza. I read in the far right B’Sheva newspaper that people in Sderot have been getting phone calls asking them if they have a place to leave to in the event of an emergency (which translates into endless Kassams and/or Katyushas). The defense Minister, Amir Peretz, has been quoted as saying that the IDF will go in “if necessary”. Here too, the IDF is hungry to win back the admiration that many have for their fighting prowess. It is extremely frustrating for soldiers who are motivated to protect their fellow Jews to sit back and watch as the citizens of the Negev are sitting ducks, without doing what they have been trained to do. When the civil war ends in Gaza, and the inevitable Kassams start being fired, the IDF wants to go in and act.

Politics:

The big news this past week was the appointment of the new Justice Minister, Professor Daniel Friedman, after the previous Justice Minister, MK Chaim Ramon, was convicted for sexual harassment of a young woman in his employ. This appointment has made waves in Israel, and to understand why you need to have some background.

The basis of democracy, as most Americans know, is the separation of powers. In America there is a clearly defined set of checks and balances which aims to curtail the amount of power one part of the government can accrue. In Israel there is no clearly defined set of checks and balances. The courts in Israel are disproportionately made up of those with liberal, left-wing viewpoints, and to make matters worse, many have the idea that it is up to the justice system to be active in promoting these viewpoints. The past head of the Supreme Court, Justice Aharon Barak (who just recently retired) was very vocal in this area. The problem is that unfortunately the judges do have the power to put forth their ideas in practical terms. Far left political groups such as Peace Now have used this to their advantage, by taking political disputes to the Supreme Court, where they know that the judges agree with them, and are willing to hear cases that are political in nature and not necessarily ones that they would normally judge. An example of this is the dispute over what some call illegal outposts, where Peace Now claims Israelis are living on land stolen from Arabs. This is clearly a political question, and not a simple one of differring monetary claims (which would be tried, if need be, in a lower court).

In America Congress has to approve the appointments of new judges to the Supreme Court. Here is Israel, new appointments are voted on in a committee. The problem is the make-up of this committee. The committee is made up of a total of nine people – and most of them are members of the justice system themselves. Three are Supreme Court justices, who usually vote in a block. One is the Justice Minister from the Knesset. The others (and here I am not completely clear) are members of lawyers groups – who must argue cases in front of the Supreme Court as part of their profession.

This situation has led to a clear case of abuse of power. In the recent past, a number of judges have been put forth as candidates for the Supreme Court. One, professor Ruth Gavison, has sterling credentials. She even is known as having liberal, left-wing views on many topics. The only “problem” is that she is known to oppose judicial activism. She believes that the Supreme Court should interpret the law, not make it. Those who want her to be appointed to the Supreme Court have been hestitant to put forth her candidacy, because they fear that she will be rejected by the committee because of this viewpoint. In short, the system is rigged.

A number of Justice Ministers in the past have tried to change this system – to no avail. Former Justice Minister Chaim Ramon was vocal in his desire to change the way that the Supreme Court justices are approved. When the story came out about his unwanted advances to a young woman in his office (he kissed her against her will) it was known that he would face repercussions. Some thought that he would face a disciplinary hearing, and lose his position. The justice system, in the form of the State Prosecutor, Manny Mazuz, thought that more should be done. He indicted him on criminal charges, and Ramon was recently convicted by three Supreme Court judges. He faces a possible jail term of three years.

Most people in Israel think that Ramon deserved punishment, but many believe that the courts went much too far, and they believe it is because Ramon “threatened” the judges themselves, who took revenge.

This is where Professor Friedman comes in. Ehud Olmert did something that no Prime Minister has done in decades – he gave a ministry position to someone outside of the Knesset, who is emminently qualified for the job. He is a highly respected law professor. The “problem” with him, according to some in power in the justice department, is his well known criticism for the current system of appointing judges, and his criticism of the appointment of the current head of the Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch. He believes that the current appointment system is unprofessional, and leaves the justice system open to justifiable ridicule. Now he is in a position to possibly change this.

He is well respected enough to possibly sway those on the committee to vote according to their conscience, and not fear the consequences of voting against the “activism clique”. Only time will tell, but meanwhile, the current judges on the Supreme Court who believe in judicial activism and those left-wing politicians who agree with them are very nervous.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jerusalem joe
    Feb 11, 2007 @ 07:33:27

    Thanks for the update – it’s a lot nicer than reading the papers!
    I sure hope Friedman can change the way the judges are self-appointed – the judicial system is one of the most corrupt parts of Israeli society.
    I wonder how long it will take until some former student of his “remembers” that he patted her on the back in a most sexually aggressive manner, in her sophomore year?
    He’ll probably get life for that…

  2. soccer dad
    Feb 11, 2007 @ 11:48:11

    Actually it was attempted in 1996. Netanyahu appointed Yaacov Ne’eman to the position of Justice Minister. The appointment was shot down by the overzealous Michael ben Yair. Ne’eman was later exonerated and was appointed Finance Minister.
    Netanyahu’s appointment of Raful was also shot down by ben Yair. Olmert’s appointment was troubled. And there was one more. ben Yair was even more out of control than Mazuz.
    ben Yair saw to it that Netanyahu was unable to make 3 of the cabinet appointments he had wanted and all three either were acquitted or the cases against them were laughed out of court.
    And of course there was the matter of the Bar On affair. Ironically Bar On turned down the Justice Ministry just recently didn’t he?

  3. WaysofZion
    Feb 11, 2007 @ 21:25:59

    Thanks for keeping us up to date! I always feel like I’ve had a bit of my daily “Israel fix” after I’ve read your blog…Thanks again!

  4. Irina
    Feb 12, 2007 @ 01:07:58

    Friedman actually taught at Fordham Law School (which I am attending) as a visiting professor for a year (2002-03) Imagine my surprise when we all got e-mails from the Dean with the news! (That’s how I found out!) Now let’s see what comes out of it.

  5. westbankmama
    Feb 12, 2007 @ 15:37:56

    jerusalemjoe – If I am not mistaken, he is 71 years old! Do you really think that they’ll try to frame him with that?

    soccerdad – and here I thought Manny Mazuz had the most chutzpah!

    waysofzion – is this your first comment? I don’t remember seeing your name before. In any case, welcome to my blog, and I hope you continue to enjoy

    irina – I guess his English is pretty good then. I hope he makes an impact.

  6. WaysofZion
    Feb 12, 2007 @ 17:22:52

    opps, forgot to say that I used to blog as motherofisrael but got fed up with blogger

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