"I don't feel that I took a step that involves personal deception," Public Security Minister Avi Dichter protested Wednesday, in his office in the Knesset. "I don't feel that I took a step from which I can personally benefit. I believe that I chose the best candidate for police commissioner."
If Ganot is disqualified, the minister was asked, then what will happen to Dichter the politician?
"Then Avi Dichter, as a politician, will get a mere scratch from this process," he said. "Nothing more. In the past, I got quite a few scratches, but I got them honestly."
Taking a short pause to think, Dichter added: "I haven't succeeded in everything I did in life. But I am proud of what I did succeed in doing, and I am not embarrassed by what I did not succeed in doing. If the process fails, I won't feel embarrassment - not personally and not politically - and I will have a lot to say on the matter. Some of the things I have already said; the lion's share I'll only say afterward."
Dichter was asked if he would have acted differently were he able to turn back the clock. In response, he described how the Ganot appointment developed: About two months ago, Dichter spoke to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz about Ganot. Both officials spoke appreciatively of Ganot's operational abilities as head of the Israel Prison Service, the post he currently holds. Mazuz mentioned the acquittal, and said he expected that there would be petitions to the High Court of Justice against the appointment.
"The closer the time came [for the Zeiler Commission to submit its report on police and prosecutorial malfeasance], the sharper the warnings of Meni [Mazuz] became," said Dichter. Reading between the lines, it appears that Dichter maintains that if Mazuz had issued more forceful warnings two months ago, the minister might have gone in search of another candidate for police chief. However, Dichter did not say so explicitly.
Dichter's comments indicate that he had accepted the possibility that his choice for police commissioner would be disqualified. He is preparing his counterattack, but he is being unrealistic if he really thinks that the matter will end with a mere scratch. A more appropriate analogy would be a ringing slap on the cheek that will leave a red mark on his face for a long time.
Dichter did not need to get burned by the Ganot affair in order to realize that politics is all about image. When he joined Kadima, a week before then-prime minister Ariel Sharon's collapse, Dichter was marketed by Sharon's people as the party's great white hope, as Israel's version of former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who would wipe out crime and violence in the country with the same originality and daring with which he quashed the intifada while leading the Shin Bet security service.
Dichter came equipped with all the qualities Kadima needed. A pleasant, honest guy who speaks well, he served in a commando unit and was seen as both a successful security hawk and a political dove. He wasn't a complete political neophyte; as head of the Shin Bet, he was an uber-politician who knew how to market himself and his organization to Sharon - as well as to the ministers, who were charmed by him, and the media, which treated him well. On the face of it, he did not have to be in a position any different from that of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is skyrocketing to the heights of popularity without doing anything significant.
But after nine months in the Public Security Ministry, Dichter is considered a disappointment - to a large extent, unjustly so. Dichter has the will to turn Israel into a less violent place and improve the quality of life here. But what is needed is not just good will, but more time and a lot of money, which Dichter doesn't have. The Zeiler report and the subsequent replacement of the police chief was supposed to help Dichter turn a new leaf in his relations with the public and the police force, from his point of view, at least. That's what makes it so hard to understand why he chose Ganot .
Hearing Dichter's explanation for choosing Ganot makes it no less difficult to understand his reasoning. There is no disputing that Ganot is an experienced and talented officer who possesses good operational ability, but the country expects more from its top cop. More is also expected from Dichter, who rushed to demand that former justice minister Haim Ramon, a fellow Kadima member, suspend himself from the Knesset right after he was convicted of indecent behavior for forcibly kissing a female soldier. Many Kadima MKs were angered by Dichter's comments, which they saw as unfriendly; indeed, a bit more sensitivity could have been expected. If Dichter was such a purist when it came to Ramon, why isn't he a purist when it comes to Ganot?
The money factor
"You're making a serious mistake with this Gaydamak," MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) told party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu this week.
Rivlin was referring to Russian-Israeli tycoon Arcadi Gaydamak, who was launching a new political party likely to eventually join the Likud, apparently in a bid to help Netanyahu get elected prime minister. However, Netanyahu's staff said the Likud leader was not informed of Gaydamak's decision in advance and did not coordinate plans for the party with him.
In Rivlin's eyes, a link between the Likud and Gaydamak, who has been investigated by police on suspicion of money-laundering activities involving tens of millions of dollars, is not a good thing.
"Joining up with him will identify the Likud with what we have never been identified with - and I'm not referring to Russians," said Rivlin. "The Likud was always a movement of the people. The nation's love for us comes from our never having been patrons, or under anyone's patronage."
"In our good days," he sighed, referring to the days of former prime minister Menachem Begin, "we were perceived as the movement that keeps money and government separate."
Rivlin was not the only one reminiscing about Begin this week . On Tuesday, MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) made a proposal for the Knesset agenda, to mark 15 years since Begin's death. Only three Likud MKs were present: Sa'ar, Rivlin and Michael Eitan. Netanyahu was on his way to Paris to discuss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Before taking off, he said he had no connection to Gaydamak's new party.
"After all, he'll steal votes from us," said Netanyahu. "Why should I join up with him?" The Likud leader also said he was not relying on Gaydamak's political support.
Netanyahu knows that ties with Gaydamak could cause him damage for several reasons. First, the elite, whom Netanyahu wants to win over, are deterred by the Gaydamak phenomenon - both the man and his deep pockets. With arrogant cynicism, more monarchic than oligarchic, Gaydamak appears to be using money to pave his road to power. Second, Netanyahu is burning his bridges to Gaydamak's rival in the Russian-speaking street, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who will not forget the reported Netanyahu-Gaydamak connection until hell freezes over and will take revenge on the Likud leader whenever he can. And third, if the Gaydamak party does take off and wins some 10 seats in the next elections, a few of those seats will come at the expense of votes that would otherwise have gone to the Likud.
Likud MKs expressed doubts about Netanyahu's denials. Silvan Shalom, who doesn't miss any opportunity to needle the party chairman, did just that on Channel 1 television. "Sharon," said Shalom, "merged [the immigrant party] Yisrael b'Aliyah into [the Likud], in order to connect with immigrants. We are doing the opposite. Have we given up on the immigrants, on the ingathering of the exiles that always characterized us?"
Many theories on the Gaydamak party, some of them contradictory, were bandied about this week. Some argued that he launched the party in coordination with Netanyahu in an effort to push Lieberman into quitting the government and bring about early elections. Indeed, all who spoke to Lieberman got the impression that now, more than ever, he is determined to remain in the government. In another week, Yisrael Beiteinu is due to receive another portfolio and the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, which will bolster Lieberman's already strong alliance with Olmert.
The prime minister is also boosting his personal relationship with Lieberman, whom he sees as a key to the continued existence of the coalition. Lieberman admires the determination Olmert displayed at the recent summit with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In private conversations, Lieberman has said he views a major military operation in the Gaza Strip as being just a matter of time.
Nighttime meetingOn Thursday night, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, was slated to meet with Shas chairman Eli Yishai to discuss Lau's candidacy for the presidency of Israel. Other scheduled participants included Rafael Pinhasi, secretary of the Shas Council of Sages, and businessman Motti Zisser.
Lau wants to be president, and he knows that he doesn't have a chance without the support of Shas. The prevailing assumption is that Shas will have a hard time not voting for a rabbi, but the matter is more complicated than that. Relations between Lau and Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, are chilly because Yosef supported Rabbi Yona Metzger for the position of the current Ashkenazi chief rabbi; Lau didn't like this support, and Yosef's camp didn't like Lau's attitude toward Yosef. Now Lau is trying to clear a path back to the Shas spiritual leader, via Yishai and Pinhasi.
But Lau's candidacy has no chance anyway, with or without the backing of Shas. Either Ruby Rivlin or Shimon Peres will end up president, and whoever gets Shas' backing and doesn't win will just prove that he can win without the party. That's how it is with Shas; it goes with the winners.
As far as Peres goes, a senior Labor Party official raised the following possibility this week:
Let's say that Olmert is forced to quit in the wake of a scathing Winograd Commission report on last summer's war in Lebanon. The law states that the president must assign the task of forming a government to an MK "who has agreed to do so." The acting president, at least until June, is Labor's Dalia Itzik. Why wouldn't she assign the task to Peres, as an agreed-upon temporary candidate?
According to the law, all Peres has to do is express his willingness.
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