As the Sharon family's silence gets uglier, we are beginning to see a growing resemblance between the Watergate scandal in America and the sorry business that can be fittingly called Sharongate.
These two affairs began with a seemingly negligible incident. In America, the headquarters of the Democratic Party were broken into on the eve of the elections to bug a phone and do some political spying. Around here, the trouble started when money raised for the primaries found its way into the coffers of Sharon's election campaign for prime minister, which is not strictly legal.
In both cases, the damage could have been minimized as soon as the truth came out. President Nixon could have expressed regret over the affair and promised that it wouldn't happen again. Instead, he got himself mixed up in a web of lies and cover-ups that ended in his impeachment.
Something similar is happening to Sharon. Rather than pay the fine imposed on him by the state comptroller, he promised to return the money to the donors. This led to the family being suspected of shady business deals and bribe-taking.
Gilad Sharon's silence, compounded by the silence of brother Omri Sharon and Papa Sharon, is steering them down the same path taken by Nixon: obstruction of justice.
According to Israeli law, parents and children are not allowed to testify against one another in criminal proceedings. In a police inquiry, the suspect has the right to remain silent in order not to incriminate himself. But only himself - not his father, or his brother or anyone else who might be involved behind the scenes.
The moment Gilad answers questions about how and why he received astronomical sums as a "consultant" in the so-called Greek island affair, or gives us the lowdown on the $1.5 million transferred from Cyril Kern, including how the money was repaid and into whose pocket, he may end up incriminating his father, even if by law he cannot testify against him in court.
In other words, if Sharon had not declared that he would return the money, there would have been no reason to take a cent from Cyril Kern or whoever is hiding behind him. There would have been no need to falsely assure the state comptroller that the money had been repaid. And an offense punishable by a fine would not have turned into suspicions of bribery.
When Sharon fired Naomi Blumenthal from her job as deputy minister for remaining silent under questioning about an alleged racket in the Likud primaries, Sharon wrote to her that "a person in public office not only has no right to remain silent, but is obligated to reveal the circumstances of his or her election. Refusal to answer the questions of the police is intolerable and unseemly, not only tarnishing the image of the person under investigation, but casting aspersions on the whole party."
Sharon could have written this letter to himself and his two sons. If the guy practiced what he preached, he would have forbidden Gilad to remain silent or refuse to hand over documents to the police. On the face of it, Gilad may be a private citizen, but in defending his actions in matters related to his father's election, he is a public person in every respect.
If everything is fine and dandy, then why are the boys keeping their mouths zipped? If everything is not fine and dandy, and the boys are trying to protect their dad, wrongfully invoking the right to remain silent, why is Sharon silent? Does it make sense that his kids moved mountains to get him elected and he hasn't the foggiest idea what it is they did?
The police appear to have evidence for an indictment on charges of bribery. This alleged evidence is based on wiretapping of conversations with third parties and findings amassed in the course of two years of inquiry. Some police officials believe there is sufficient material to build a case.
In my mind's eye, I can see the attorney general lying on his bed at night tossing and turning, and asking himself a thousand times over whether or not to touch the Sharon family. But he should also be thinking about the effect of this family embrace of silence on public morals.
In the atmosphere of political corruption pervading this country, and especially now as Rubinstein prepares to join the Supreme Court, it seems only right to expect some bold move from him. He should speed up the investigation and press ahead with an indictment. That in itself will be a step up in establishing norms of integrity in Israeli public life.
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