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Suddenly, there's a desire to judge what's going on in the Labor Party by the standards of a well-ordered, democratic society. There's an urge to tell Avraham Burg and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer that if there is any foundation to the accusations they're flinging at one another, then neither of them is fit to lead the party and the state. There's a desire to tell the pair that when politicians make it to the top by forging dirty deals based on total disdain for the sovereign authority of the voter's ballot, they should be sent home in disgrace. One wants to explain to them that an ambition to lead a public ought to be supplemented by admirable behavior - and that when would-be leaders make dirty deals with party strong men, they have no right to claim a top role in the public arena.

Yet shortly after contemplating such a dressing-down, one recalls that there really are no well-ordered democratic societies, and that politics is always a dubious and foul-smelling sort of business. This depressing rule holds true in Miami, where the contest between George Bush and Al Gore was decided by courts whose composition was clearly partisan, and in Moscow, where Vladimir Putin was elected thanks to the activity of shady operators, and also in Rome, where Silvio Berlusconi grabbed the leadership using methods reminiscent of mafia operations.

Given the facts at hand, the right standard for measuring the legitimacy of the results of the Labor primaries is a formal one: were the results attained via criminal actions? In light of political realities in Israel, claims of political deal-making are not convincing: Many Labor figures (the list includes Ben-Eliezer himself) and Likud figures secured sure spots on their parties' Knesset election lists by making deals with political power-brokers. Certain demographic sectors and constituencies - ultra-orthodox, Druze, new immigrant - have become the decisive factors in internal party primaries, municipal elections and national prime ministerial races by voting as monolithic blocs.

It is to be regretted that Israeli democracy is marred by these flaws, and that instead of being educated to express his or her views independently, the individual blindly follows the tune of a handful of political Pied Pipers. Yet relying on this general state of conformity and deal-making to over-turn the verdict of a political party in favor of Burg will not do.

The result cannot be annulled unless Ben-Eliezer proves that Burg, or his associates, broke the law in the primaries. Should he present persuasive evidence of criminal wrong-doing, the data will be a self-evident cause to repeal the election result.

Ben-Eliezer has the right to turn to the police, and ask for a criminal investigation. Any unpleasantness caused to the Labor Party, or any of its figures (including Ben-Eliezer, since Burg has leveled counter-accusations of wrong-doing) as a result of such a formal investigation would pale in comparison to the positive effects of cleaning out the stables. Even a party that has grown accustomed to unsavory strong men determining who's the boss must not overlook suspicions of criminal behavior.

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer notched an impressive achievement. He ran neck-and-neck with Avraham Burg, and he even beat Burg by a small margin in most precincts. But he lost the Druze sector because of an alliance forged between Burg and Minister Salah Tarif. Though it is not difficult to grasp the frustration of a contender who watched victory slip from his grasp by a razor-thin margin, Ben-Eliezer must accept the voters' verdict, as it was counted by Labor's election committee. Whining does not become him, nor does it suit his position as defense minister.

He should direct his appeal of the disappointing result to the appropriate investigative and judicial institutions. True, by following such a course, his rival will for the time being assume the top spot in the party; true, a police investigation is liable to be protracted; true, the contested result of Labor's primaries is not likely to remain high on the agenda of a news-drenched public. But the formal appeal route appears to be the least problematic of the dismal alternatives left to Ben-Eliezer.

Presumably, anyone who aspires to lead the Labor Party must make the party's welfare his top priority. Under the circumstances, Labor's supreme interest must be to extricate itself quickly from the dispute over the election result. Referring suspicions of criminal wrong-doing to the police guarantees that illicit behavior will not be covered-up; if there are any criminal law-breakers in this story, the day will come when they will have to face the music. By forcing such a day of reckoning, Ben-Eliezer will, at this stage of his career, make an important contribution to the rehabilitation of the Labor Party.