Former prime minister Ehud Olmert's trial opened at the end of last week in the Jerusalem District Court. The indictment does not ensure that Olmert - who was forced to resign when the noose of the investigation tightened around him - will be convicted; he is innocent until proven otherwise. However, it does show that the authorities believe there was good reason to pursue the investigation against the former premier. In this complicated matter, the determination of the State Comptroller's Office, headed by Micha Lindenstrauss, was just as important as the police investigations division, the state prosecutor and the attorney general. Sometimes it was more important.
Lindenstrauss' predecessors had a different, more institutionalized understanding of their job. State comptrollers who were appointed after they had retired from the Supreme Court communicated a subdued expectation that was divorced from the Israeli reality: that their findings would be accepted submissively by those under their review and help correct problems. But usually it turned out that comptrollers grumbled and the system ignored them.
Lindenstrauss, formerly president of the Haifa District Court, needed the support of politicians - i.e., Knesset members - to get his job, but if they presumed that as comptroller he would try to curry favor with them, they were mistaken. During his more than four years in office, Lindenstrauss changed the style of the institution of state comptroller, giving it an activist approach, which he discussed in his interview with Gidi Weitz and Tomer Zarchin in last weekend's Haaretz Magazine.
Critics of the state comptroller, of course, will disapprove of this approach; it should come as no surprise that they include people who came under his scrutiny and were hurt when their names came up in reports and even found themselves under police investigation. The cumulative result shows that Lindenstrauss was right in renouncing the model of the comptroller as a transient guest who may indeed spot every deficiency, but whose polite whispers do nothing to eliminate problems.
Israel is in a struggle over its moral and governmental image - an existential battle in which very powerful people fear for their status, and sometimes their freedom. They want to castrate the police, sterilize the state prosecutor's office, split the office of attorney general and teach the state comptroller a lesson. In order to ward them off and deter them, a strong, unified chain of law enforcement is required - one in which the comptroller's work, as it has been done in recent years, is a very essential link.
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