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Five Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments from both sides on Wednesday in a dispute over the correct interpretation of the right to remain silent and to avoid self-incrimination, a dispute between the state's desire to enforce the law and the suspect's desire to make it difficult to gather evidence against him.

The suspect in this case is the prime minister's son, Gilad Sharon, and the suspicion is that his silence - which includes refusing to produce documents requested by the prosecution - is meant to protect not only himself, but also his father. The bank documents that the police and prosecution are seeking will help to resolve one of the key riddles in the criminal cases in which Ariel Sharon is currently starring: Did he merely receive friendly assistance from an old comrade who lives in South Africa, Cyril Kern, when he found himself legally obligated to repay illegal campaign contributions, or was Kern merely a front man for others, whose business interests in Israel would turn the crime under investigation into bribery?

The Cyril Kern affair, which began as an investigation into alleged violations of the campaign finance laws, has been growing steadily for about a year and a half. During this time, Sharon was elected to a second term as prime minister, as head of the Likud's Knesset slate. The political and the criminal tracks have been advancing simultaneously, as if it were perfectly normal for someone to serve as prime minister, in the most important post in the country, when the law enforcement agencies suspect him of serious crimes.

Gilad Sharon has come across as a loyal and devoted son who always helps his father - first financially, raising millions of shekels for him when he needed it, and then legally, by refusing to hand over documents that might make the prime minister's situation worse. On the human level, such behavior is natural. But an elected official is also, and perhaps primarily, judged on the national level. And on this level, the Sharon family's delaying tactics have been hindering efforts to disperse the cloud that hovers over the prime minister so that the law enforcement agencies can make intelligent decisions, one way or the other, on the question of whether to file indictments (both in the Kern affair and in the affair of Sharon's relationship with businessman David Appel).

Prior to the current stage of the Supreme Court hearings on the state's request that the court compel Gilad Sharon to obtain bank documents that he says are currently not in his possession, Sharon bolstered his legal staff with two noteworthy additions: a former justice minister and a former public defender. Even before this, his legal arguments had been presented with great skill, so it seems that these additions were meant to impress the public - and not only the public. That is precisely what former minister Aryeh Deri did at the later stages of his various legal proceedings.

This approach did not garner immediate success, judging from the justices' impatience with the defense's maneuvers. Gilad Sharon came across as wily and evasive. Like every citizen, he is entitled to his day in court, but this day has lengthened into weeks and months - and throughout this time, the government's ability to function properly has been impaired.

The prime minister is incapable of providing Israel with the leadership it needs from him as long as his legal woes remain unresolved. His son's silence, even if it has thus far helped the premier on the legal track, is sabotaging the public track, where Ariel Sharon's obligation is not to himself, but to the citizens of Israel.