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The two-thirds of the public who don't believe Ariel Sharon (according to a Yedioth Ahronoth survey published Friday) are kindly requested to blame only themselves for electing him prime minister. The layers that are rapidly peeling off Sharon's character are exposing what was known about him prior to his election; but the resounding majority that elected him prime minister chose to ignore it all, because it was caught up in the destructive norm that judges the moral worthiness of a public figure to manage the affairs of the state according to a single criterion - whether he/she has been convicted of a criminal offense.

Before being elected prime minister, working against Sharon were the conclusions of the Kahan Commission, which reviewed his actions in the Lebanon War, and a ruling of the Tel Aviv District Court, which determined he had not acted in good faith with Menachem Begin during that same war.

Both these instances found serious flaws, particularly with regard to his credibility and decency, in Sharon's behavior as defense minister in 1982: The Kahan Commission found that Sharon gave then prime minister Begin "rosy reports" during the Lebanon War, that he failed to provide him with real-time information, and that he did not include him in his fateful decision to allow the Phalangists into the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps. The commission found Sharon unsuitable for the post of defense minister.

Judge Moshe Talgam (in Sharon's case against yours truly and Haaretz) found that Sharon gave the government and its head misleading reports in an effort to implement his own plan - to get the Israel Defense Forces into Beirut.

The public was given detailed information about Sharon's actions at other junctions in his life in which a heavy shadow was cast on his integrity. The voters even knew about the police's recommendation (that the attorney general and state prosecution failed to adopt on the grounds of insufficient evidence) to indict him and Avigdor (Yanush) Ben-Gal on charges of bribery, suborning a witness and breach of trust due to Ben-Gal's change of tune in the libel trial against Haaretz - a change that came on the backdrop of a business trip that Ben-Gal made to Russia, under the patronage of Sharon, a short while before his testimony.

These facts did not negate Sharon's legitimacy in the eyes of the public because they did not culminate in rulings in criminal proceedings.

Because the test of worthiness to manage the affairs of the state is a literal-formalistic one, and not a moral-normative one, Sharon was able to attain the post of prime minister despite everything. The same holds true with regard to other public figures such as Benjamin Netanyahu (the Bar-On-Hebron affair); Ehud Olmert (the Likud invoices); Tzachi Hanegbi (the Derekh Tzlaha association and the Bar-On-Hebron affair); and others.

It is not the crooked behavior, whose smell spreads far and wide, that counts, but rather the test of whether the individual was convicted in a criminal proceeding because of this behavior. And because we are frequently dealing with vague offenses of breach of trust in which there is a need to prove criminal intent, public figures manage to avoid the arm of the law and win the support of the voters anew.

The public has no one to blame but itself when witnessing with its own eyes the behavior of the prime minister. Sharon has now been caught with his pants down in exactly the same sphere of behavior in which the writing was smeared all over the wall three years ago - his personal integrity and credibility.

If public life was governed by an informal norm that cast out people caught lying and behaving in a manner that any honest individual steers clear of - even if such behavior does not constitute a criminal offense in the narrow legal sense - the State of Israel would have been rid of the punishment of Sharon already 20 years ago.

But the process is quite the opposite: The young generation of politicians, those in their 30s and 40s, are surpassing their forefathers and teachers. The Likud Central Committee was elected and selected its candidates for the current Knesset in keeping with methods that are a flagrant and cynical offshoot of the power-oriented and corrupting nature of its predecessors.