A bit of trouble, a floating cloud
The media have retreated from addressing Olmert's investigation head on.
Good morning and welcome to our lesson in reading comprehension, civics and corruption, aided by the press.
On Monday afternoon last week, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced that after studying the material regarding the house Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bought on Jerusalem's Cremieux Street, and after consulting with investigators, he would order the police to commence a criminal investigation.
Mazuz also said that subject to a preliminary hearing, he'd be indicting the former finance minister, Abraham Hirchson, for allegedly stealing from the public.
Now for the front pages: The editors were less than captivated by Mazuz's decisions. The top news stories discussed the Iranian president's speech in New York. Ahmadinejad sprang no surprises, repeating his usual rhetoric about the Holocaust, terrorism, the Palestinian people and the Iranian yearning for peace - but he did make a good headline.
There was simply no room left for Mazuz, except at the bottom of the page.
One paper mentioned both stories under the headlines "Another investigation" and "Cirrus clouds." Brevity is the soul of wit, Shakespeare said. No question about it, these headlines excel in brevity and brilliance.
"Another investigation." We get it: Nothing new here, all's well, another day of gains on the stock market, another dull day at the office. True, the case must be pursued, but let's not lose all sense of proportion: It's just "another investigation."
"Cirrus clouds" is far more evocative. With that short literary construction, the reader gets the full picture: blue skies, gentle sun, children frolicking in the park and above them two or three cirrus clouds silently, gently wafting in the breeze, sliding slowly across the heavens. If you squint and use some imagination, you can see the radiant face of the prime minister in these wispy clouds, promising us a country that's fun to live in. So worry not, children! Be happy. It's just another investigation.
The other paper sent the attorney general even lower, to the bottom of the page next to a referral to a far more interesting story: Dudi Sela, a tennis player, wrote about how he broke down and decided to get into the real estate market. Note - it was an exclusive: Dudi rejected Israel's other leading media outlets and made the difficult decision to tell his story to this and no other paper, where you can read all about it in the Sports section.
The referral to Dudi's story necessarily left less inches for the Olmert story, but the paper's literary solution compensates: a human-interest story about the little man. Instead of reporting the story from the broad, institutional point of view, which one must admit can be boring, one needs to present the human drama.
The headline, "Olmert's travails," spares the reader a profound news item about serious evidence that was uncovered, forcing the attorney general to pursue an investigation of an incumbent prime minister - a move that has major public, political and economic ramifications. No, instead we offer a story from the perspective of Citizen Ehud, who has troubles, just as you and I have.
Among these reports, the alert reader will have noticed an interesting response. No, not the one from the prime minister or one of his associates, saying it's all nonsense, but the response of another, objective institution which looked closely into the affair and reached a categorical conclusion: "We are confident that the procedure of buying the Olmert family apartment on Cremieux Street was clean and regret the decision to continue investigating, because it's pointless."
The truth must be told: While the judicial authority stammers, the investigative one leaks, the legislative one hesitates, the operative one zigzags and the press escapes into its literary world of clouds and travails, there is one authority in Israel that says it like it is: It's all nonsense. All is well.
Which authority is this? The Prime Minister's Office.
But wait, what actually is the Prime Minister's Office? We thought it works for the prime minister and he heads it - silly us. Perhaps we had the flu and missed a civics lesson. It turns out that the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem consists of two authorities, which are not related: One is headed by the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who buys and sells houses, profits, helps his friends and appoints dubious party hacks to head the national treasury.
At the head of the other stands Ehud Olmert, prime minister, and this is the one responsible for issuing such professional opinions. This is the one that convened its people, who examined the matter closely and issued an opinion that cleared the prime minister of all suspicion.
The public isn't foolish and the political correspondents weren't born yesterday. They know that the prime minister's comment is biased. But the official statement from the Prime Minister's Office, clearing Olmert of any wrongdoing, still carries weight.
But after having poked fun at the press, we have to admit that the investigation into Cremieux isn't likely to end any differently from the many other investigations into Olmert and other prime ministers.
Why? Because in criminal cases, the burden of proof lies on the prosecution and when the alleged crimes include breach of trust and corruption, it's tough to prosecute, especially when the criminals are wily and have top-notch lawyers.
The root of the problem is that Israel's public system has stopped applying litmus tests of integrity, ethics and probity: It settles for the criminal test. Some of Israel's public figures have been acquitted but their acts stink of corruption, cronyism, and contempt for the principles of justice and democracy from a mile away.
But if the prosecution fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that crime was committed, the ugliness and stench quickly pass, to be replaced by crows of victory from the corrupt and their henchmen, who have been cleared to spend some more years peacefully bleeding the Israeli taxpayer dry.