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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon captured the heart of the press when he sat steady in his seat in the Knesset plenum eight months ago, showing no signs of discomfiture at Benjamin Netanyahu's attempted putsch. The media, most of which likes to paint reality in the dramatic colors of a sports competition, praised the prime minister for his nerves of steel. Ever since, he has been the media's darling. A giant of a politician in the face of the dwarfs of his party and the rest of the political players. This enthusiastic response ignores the dark side of Sharon's sangfroid, which came to the fore last week in his speech to the Knesset during the special debate on corruption in public life.

Sharon chose to deny categorically the accusations of corruption hurled at him and his party. He compared the chain of opposition speeches on the issue to patients meeting in group therapy to let off steam, as if it were a question of psychological distress, completely groundless. At most, the prime minister agreed to thread the opposition's accusations through the eye of the political needle: They stem from partisan considerations and their entire purpose is to goad the Likud. As Sharon put it: "Most of the things said here are lies, foolishness and malice ... this campaign against corruption has no higher purpose than the simple desire to smear the Likud."

Sharon is a peerless cynic. It is this character trait that brought him to office as prime minister, and thanks to which he can cut himself loose from his lifetime project in the territories and lead to disengagement. Only a person who scorns faith and values, who sees words as a mere technical means to an end, can give speeches denying reality and presenting it in a deceptive light. Only a person whose heart is hardened to the moral imperatives incumbent on a leader can allow himself a defense against charges of corruption by saying that everybody does it.

Sharon therefore dares to stand before the elected representatives of the people, and through them before the whole country, and argue that the rules of the game in the Likud are the rules common in all parties - as if the central committees of all the parties have underworld members, as if all parties have had bribes exposed, as if MKs from all parties have become mixed up in police investigations because of the way they got into the Knesset, as if all parties have ministers whom the state comptroller has said made wrongful use of their position to hand out public service jobs to central party members, as if all parties have ministers whose functioning the state comptroller has found so egregious that he passed on his findings to the police. One must be extraordinarily arrogant and incorrigibly impervious to the needs of society to slough off the phenomena of corruption found in the Likud and its representatives in the Knesset and cabinet with the argument that it never happened and that the accusations are nothing but political provocations.

Who is the man who presents this audacious version of events, a version that accepts corruption and claims that Meretz and the Likud are alike and that all MKs are made in the image of Michael Gorolovsky? - Ariel Sharon. He is the man who by the skin of his teeth was spared in a decision by the attorney general who examined his behavior and that of his son Gilad in the Greek Island affair; the man whose son Omri sacrificed himself to disentangle Sharon from an embarrassing investigation about improper fund-raising for his campaign for Likud chairman; the man whom the state comptroller found in conflict of interest for using his position as prime minister to issue instructions to the Israel Lands Administration to promote his family's real estate interests in Kfar Malal. When this is the moral image of the prime minister and the head of the Likud, one doesn't need to look further to detect the source of something rotten, and it is not surprising that he did not choose to keep silent, and gave new meaning to the phrase corrupting the language.