Ehud Barak made a laughingstock of himself on Wednesday when he called for Ehud Olmert to step aside, but ignored the only winning argument: It is unacceptable for someone who behaves like Olmert to be prime minister.
Barak's explanations came from the fields of administration and finance - the difficulty Olmert would have in simultaneously managing matters of state and his legal defense. This is nonsense. It did not bother Barak - who was simultaneously prime minister, defense minister and party chairman for a year and a half - that Olmert continued in his post despite the pressures of four criminal investigations, in addition to the Winograd Committee's investigation of the Second Lebanon War. Olmert could watch a little less soccer on television - there is not much on now anyway, aside from the European Championships - and dedicate his evenings and weekends to his troubles.
It is no coincidence that Barak focused on the legal issue and ignored the moral shock caused by the avaricious parasitism that took place over years, the leeching off Diaspora Jewry. When Barak thinks about Olmert, he thinks about Barak. A decade ago, Barak was a member of the Knesset inquiry committee into the failed attempt to assassinate Khaled Meshal in Amman. When he was asked then why he did not call for the resignation of Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak responded: Because in another year or two, I will be prime minister, and it is not good for there to be a precedent like that.
Barak is not Olmert, but he, like Netanyahu, is not sufficiently non-Olmertian to have faith in his power to fend off such attacks. That is why Tal Silberstein was sent to remind him of his sins. Silberstein, who won publicity after the Rabin assassination as an activist in the Dor Shalem Doresh Shalom ("A Whole Generation Demands Peace") movement, has over the years become a hybrid entity, Tal Lansky: the elderly and aggressive Jewish mafioso Meyer Lansky in the guise of an Israeli dreamer from a poor neighborhood.
Now Silberstein is the spokesman for the A Whole Generation Wants Cash movement. All the politicians are alike; all of them have large empty pockets and a hungry look; and it would be better even for those who live in stone houses not to throw glass. Olmert is not a criminal at all, but a victim, a product of the system. And if he goes, he will be replaced by someone just like him, who will in turn be investigated and crucified.
Such rationales are no less offensive than Olmert's behavior. The legislators who write the election laws audaciously explain why they are allowed to violate the laws in order to grab power: Whoever wants to end up with his picture on a postage stamp needs to accept some envelopes along the way. A populace willing to accept such an arrangement does not have the right to complain about its results. If it ultimately rises up against this system, that means the public has come to understand that politics is too important to be left in the hands of the politicians.
Barak's immediate test will be not just how quickly he acts if Kadima dawdles, but also whether he agrees to cooperate with ugly maneuvers - such as if Shaul Mofaz tries to win Shas support and oppose Tzipi Livni, since Mofaz is a man of Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) descent.
Olmert is desperately trying to gain time. He is attempting to improve his position on the criminal front by maneuvering on the public front, and vice versa, although he has so far only done damage to himself. He cannot completely save himself from being ousted and indicted. His lawyers want to make the judges think there is reasonable doubt when it comes to the credibility of Morris Talansky's testimony. But if they succeed in doing so, that will ultimately spell failure - because the credibility of Talansky's description of his friendship with Olmert is important for their explanation of the basis for Talansky's donations. Take away the friendship, and the chances of Olmert being accused of bribery rise. Moreover, there has been some talk of a plea bargain with Shula Zaken, the suspect who could turn star witness.
Here there is a possible meeting point between the prosecution and the defense. The prosecution would consider it an achievement to garner enough evidence for a large indictment (fraud, breach of trust) but not a huge one (bribery). Olmert's lawyers would consider it an achievement to bring the indictment down to a mid-range offense. Later on, in Ma'asiyahu Prison, Olmert would, as usual, take care of upgrading himself from the business section to first class.
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