Today's source, tomorrow's investigator
In the problematic realm between the prime minister and the Shin Bet chief, we need proper supervision by an apolitical body. The attorney general is unavailable and incapable of performing this function.
While striking a prime ministerial pose, Ehud Olmert looks straight into the camera, this time without covering the lens with his hand. His right wrist glistens - it's adorned with a designer watch. During the interview, the national flag hovers in the background alongside a bookcase that befits a statesman.
He is "one of the most influential and respected leaders in Israel's history" - respect, alongside integrity, is the key word here from a marketing perspective. Before his election to the Knesset, he "was at the helm of a successful law partnership in Jerusalem" (with Uri Messer). As Jerusalem mayor, he "changed the face of the city" (see: Holyland). Olmert is available for public speaking appearances, during which he will provide "in-depth analysis on the world's most difficult and complex issues, including international security, urban infrastructure, universal health care and education reform."
Olmert is a talent. The speakers bureau he belongs to is known as Greater Talent Network. It bills itself as "a dependable source for celebrity speakers" available at anyone's beck and call, from Niagara Falls to Viagra Halls. There's retired boxer George Foreman; Max Weinberg, the drummer for Conan O'Brien; Mia Farrow, the actress who survived Woody Allen; Candace Bushnell, the creator of "Sex and the City"; and Ben and Jerry, of ice cream fame. You can even have Ben without Jerry, or vice versa, though it doesn't say if they would charge half price.
Greater Talent Network claims "exclusive representation" of its talents. If the police want to get Olmert to talk, they don't need an arrest warrant. Nor should they be frugal. Instead, they should dial (212) 645-4200, the phone number at the Fifth Avenue office of the company's founder and CEO, Don Epstein. For a cool $45,000 per appearance, a fee that does not include the expenses of Olmert and his bodyguards but includes a commission for the agency, you've got a deal. That's the difference between a suspect and a talent; the latter doesn't reserve the right to remain silent.
God has indeed blessed America. What a wonderful country. It's filled with crowds that are just clamoring to pay huge sums to hear a lecture by an Israeli politician, even one who fell off his high horse due to a seemingly endless string of criminal investigations. And he is now on trial on charges that could land him in jail and brand him with moral turpitude.
Israel, too, is a wonderful country. It allows him to sit in front of Messi instead of Messer and indulge in ceremonies marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, as if one of the accusations in the Rishon Tours double-billing case didn't implicate him in a scheme to defraud Yad Vashem.
It's wrong to put the Olmert story in the newspaper's crime and business sections. Rather, this is a security story about an Israeli democracy that is killing itself, one that grants influence on matters related to the life and death of soldiers and civilians, as well as access to secrets, to people who should be barred from serving as assistant to the chief of staff at GOC Central Command. The rules do not apply to publicly elected officials. And it's not just Olmert. If a Foreign Ministry employee were suspected of crimes that compelled the police to recommend an indictment against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he would lose his security clearance, at the very least.
As a young legislator and member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Olmert exploited his access to classified material and ventured on behalf of Time Magazine's Jerusalem correspondent to glance at the confidential appendage to the Kahan Commission's report on the first Lebanon war. The head of the Shin Bet security service is welcome to express his professional opinion on this matter.
He could also take the opportunity to state his position on another intriguing question: What should be done with the senior Foreign Ministry official who passed a secret military document ("the Stauber document") to a journalist, who then gave it to Benjamin Netanyahu, just an MK at the time, who subsequently revealed it to the world?
One could rest at ease. Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin will not bend over backward to preach morality in public to his superiors - among them the man who recently extended his term by another year. The Shin Bet's heads are very small heroes when it comes to politicians. If the list of those suspected of receiving leaked confidential material includes the prime minister and the Mossad chief, experience proves that Shin Bet investigators will not do their jobs properly, nor will they touch those at the top of the ladder.
As such, prime ministers will be encouraged to decide which newspaper articles, written by which journalists, should be investigated. Thus a journalist who cozies up to the prime minister and perhaps hears from him a secret or two would best be ignored. Yesterday the prime minister was a source. Yet tomorrow he's going to investigate? This is too dangerous.
In the problematic realm between the prime minister and the Shin Bet chief, we need proper supervision by an apolitical body. The attorney general is unavailable and incapable of performing this function. We need a committee of three retired District Court presidents - people who have come across more defense-related information than even Supreme Court justices. These three can serve as traffic cops in the spot where corruption and defense intersect.
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