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The most astonishing aspect of the suspicions against President Moshe Katsav is not the attitude of the political system, which is treating him like a leper, but rather the extreme difference between this attitude and the atmosphere of "business as usual" that prevailed around Ariel Sharon as a prime minister suspected of criminal offenses.

Sharon was interrogated by the police in the Greek island and Cyril Kern affairs. The investigations of the prime minister continued for years, not months, and also went through the stage of the State Prosecutor's Office, which recommended that he be tried and formulated a draft indictment against him. However, unlike Katsav, who was forced to give up the swearing in of the president of the Supreme Court, no one interfered with Sharon's continuing to serve as head of the government at all, not even when he appointed an attorney general, the same attorney general who hastened to close his case.

As both leaders enjoyed the same status of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, it is necessary to seek the explanation elsewhere: the kinds of offense under investigation, the nature of the evidence and especially the suspect's ability to shake off those who hasten to rise up against him.

Katsav is suspected mainly of sexual offenses. Had he been suspected only of other offenses, from the area of bias in pardons and electronic eavesdropping, female Knesset members would not be attacking him. White collar crime - permitted. Yellow tabloid zip-up - prohibited.

Against Katsav, complaints, charges and samplings of recordings are being heard from flesh-and-blood women. The public is being invited to listen and judge, according to what is perceived as evidence and according to popular experience. Against Sharon, too, bits of evidence were heard, but the large reservoir was held close by the law enforcement officials, headed by the attorney general. The public was never exposed to the raw materials, but only to a version edited by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz.

Thus, for example, one of Mazuz's arguments was that certain truths were evident: People who were wiretapped (members of the Sharon family, entrepreneur and wheeler-dealer David Apple), did not know that they were being wiretapped, and if they did not incriminate themselves on the telephone, this meant that they had done no wrong. "There is no indication that any of the speakers suspected he was being wiretapped," asserted Mazuz in paragraph 211 of his decision. This also became his position before the Supreme Court, which is to say that if it was mistaken at base, it deceived the justices. On November 25, 1999, as Mazuz knows, Sharon phoned Appel from New York and asked how he was doing in the wake of is interrogation by the police in another case. Appel thanked Sharon for his interest and added that when he returned to Israel, the two of them would go to Ra'anana. Sharon, who was usually cautious and calculating, was tempted this time into talking to the wiretappers. Ra'anana, he said, "isn't code. It's a kosher restaurant."

In trying to justify the huge salary Appel promised Gilad Sharon, Mazuz cited parts of the statement of advertiser Zvi ("Shishko") Rotenberg - but only the portions convenient to closing the case. Myopically, statements that lead in the other direction were concealed, such as "I would say that his is a very large sum, the highest retainer I've ever heard of," of the $3 million that were promised to Gilad. Six of the High Court justices, with only Justice Mishael Cheshin dissenting, refused to allow the petitioners against Mazuz's decision to examine the material according to which he said he had justified his decision.

Why was Sharon treated better than Katsav? What has changed between the summer of 2004 and the summer of 2006? Mazuz has changed: In his cases against Sharon he took pride in his refusal to pass the burden of proof to the court, and in Haim Ramon's case (again, sex and not corruption), he preferred a court decision. And, above all, the chief suspect has changed. Even if they are acquitted, they will not be able to take revenge. This is their presumption of kaput - in either case they are finished, which does not apply to prime ministers, whose power derives from their political and legal status. It will be interesting to see what those who distance themselves from Katsav and discriminate against him in comparison to Sharon will do, should the suspicions against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert develop into a full-blown criminal investigation.