February 12 will mark Shaul Mofaz's "civilian birthday," when he will leave the legal freezer that he was put into as chief of staff, because only then, two weeks after the new Knesset is elected, will six months have passed from his last day in military service.
This morning, 11 Supreme Court justices will hear Mofaz's petition against the decision by the Central Election Committee and its chairman, Justice Mishael Cheshin, that he is not eligible to run for Knesset. Mofaz is asking the court to pay the bill for the whims of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who recruited Mofaz into politics and in the same breath put the former chief of staff into this fix by setting the date for the elections on January 28, without taking into account Mofaz's needs.
The ambitions of an individual - Mofaz - are more important in his eyes than the legislator's desire to draw a distinction between military and political service. He is opposed to the cooling-off period in general (100 days for junior officers and six months for senior officers), and as his wont, shirks responsibility for his deeds and failures, in this case, the false documentation produced for him. On August 11, the petition claims not so innocently, Mofaz "decided to end his retirement leave. As a result, the military authorities set the date of his demobilization from the army, according to IDF practice, on July 13." Who am I, the simple soldier Mofaz, to argue with the army and its practices? Give me the money and I'll run.
The term "retirement leave" is deceptive in this case. It's not a vacation after long years of service that interest the retirees, but the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of shekels, wages for the months between ending active service and the final retirement date. That's a heavy expense for the state coffers, and the conditions for getting it is the soldier's continuing service, including avoiding political activity. It's either/or, not both. The law allows turning pension money into cash, not salaries. Mofaz preferred to remain in service and receive his salary and the accompanying benefits (a car and driver, for example), and then suddenly retire and get a full pension payment and not 11 days of salary. The retroactive date does not reflect the facts of the matter and grasping at it does not do Mofaz's honor much good. But his honor is his private affair. Another matter, the public one, is his - and Sharon's - problematic judgment on the issue, behaving as if the term "the commonwealth" means "my wealth."
Mofaz is a large fish in the food chain, but Sharon also gets involved with minnows. Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander was upset Sunday when he heard about efforts by Sharon's director-general Avigdor Yitzhaki to provide a state job for attorney Dikla Bruncher, who is the daughter, niece and aunt of three Likud Central Committee members. Bruncher is a graduate of Manchester University, not exactly the Manchester United of the academic world. She was elected to a job in Sharon's office, in the legal department, with the votes of the Central Committee - Yitzhaki pressed to employ her, without a tender, arguing that there's a manpower crisis. After the failure of the first stage of the tender - to which 150 candidates applied - Yitzhaki hunkered down behind a decision by the Sharon government to freeze tenders, refused to go to the committee that handles unusual appointments, and tried to extend Bruncher's contract.
Hollander resigned from the Yitzhaki fan club in the wake of Yitzhaki's efforts to neutralize the Civil Service Commission, to allow Sharon and his ministers pay off supporters with government jobs. A journalistic inquiry about the issue prompted Hollander to convene an urgent session of the commission, which ended with the order to fire Bruncher and continue with the tender.
A direct line of government corruption connects the Mofaz and Bruncher scandals, leading to a single commander, struggling for his political survival. Reality is not as easy to rewrite as an IDF retirement document, but its reflection can be shaped among other reasons because of Sharon's ability - for example, as the person in charge of the Israel Broadcasting Authority - to limit the public debate about his mischief.
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