On the eve of Independence Day in the Jewish year 5760 (May 2000), President Ezer Weizman announced that he would retire by the end of the year. The announcement came amid a police investigation that found that Weizman had received money from a businessman, Eduard Seroussi. After the announcement, attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein said the investigation against Weizman would be closed.
In this embarrassing way, Weizman's public career ended. Exactly eight years later, on the eve of Independence Day in the Jewish year 5768 (May 2008), an investigation is being conducted against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. True, he has not announced an intention to leave his post, but the opposition is already calling on him to do so. The investigation is merely in its opening phase and is being kept under wraps, making it difficult to know the details. But the Likud Knesset whip, Gideon Sa'ar, has taken a decisive position: Olmert must resign immediately.
Olmert is a politician who has spent his public life moving along the seam between what is fitting and what is not; in the meantime he has taken care of himself. He is not made of the rare stuff of Haim Oron or Benny Begin, whose personal standards for what is permitted or forbidden kept them away from the path Olmert has taken.
Nevertheless, to this day Olmert has not been involved in a criminal act. On the face of it, he has been sufficiently cautious so as not to violate the law. The flawed conduct attributed to him has never touched on criminality. He is viewed as someone who did not have qualms about exploiting his public standing to further his own affairs, as someone who does not pay attention to minutiae when collecting donations, as someone who finds positions for his close associates in the public service, and as someone who uses his influence to help his friends and acquaintances.
In this gray area, quite a few acts and decisions have been chalked up to Olmert, and the police are investigating some of these. So far, not one file opened against him has been translated into a formal indictment (in the case of the Likud invoices, a legal procedure took place, after which he was acquitted). On the other hand, decent people consider his very conduct bad, but decent people are very often considered eccentric.
Olmert is the pepper of the earth; a typical variety of the adroit, cynical, haughty, power-loving politician who applied to himself the annoying recommendation that was prevalent in the corridors of power in the 1950s, "Do not muzzle the ox while threshing." He is no exception when he mixes up the personal and the public, or confuses the country's good with the benefits he can accrue from his job, or the trees chopped down for the general good with the shavings that fall into his lap. The complaints against him, including those being investigated by the police, are the kind frequently found in the public life of this country (and the rest of the world) - bending of tenders, preferential treatment of associates, funding election campaigns.
All of this is true of what has been until now. If it turns out that Olmert did indeed go down a dark alley to win benefits for himself, in a way that clearly violates the law, this would be something new: The man, a crafty lawyer and seasoned politician, did not shrink from crossing the boundaries set down by law. If that is the case, Olmert will complete his public career in utter disgrace.
But until the veil of secrecy is lifted he is entitled to an investigation that is to the point, and certainly without political interference. Before Likud demands that the prime minister resign, its leaders would best examine whether there is no mark on their own foreheads. After all, only a month ago it turned out that a British millionaire had paid for Benjamin Netanyahu's deluxe accommodation in London during the Second Lebanon War. And complaints of the kind being voiced against Olmert were heard against Netanyahu when he was prime minister. And various other politicians of the Likud family have also taken their place on the bench of the accused or have seen the inside of a police investigation room (Shmuel Rechtman, Abraham Hirchson, Yisrael Katz).
Menachem Begin, the founding father of the Herut movement from which Likud descends, would have said that the truth has limitless power to come to the fore; sometimes its path is blocked, sometimes it has to wriggle around until it finds loopholes, but in the end it is revealed in the light of day. Before Sa'ar and and his Likud colleague Silvan Shalom initiate moves to topple the government, let them first leave Olmert alone and let the truth come out, so he can conduct the affairs of state in the meantime.
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