Independence Day-ja vu
Just like in the past two years, Ehud Olmert is sitting and sweating it out, as suspicions pile up against him in yet another affair.
On Independence Day two years ago, Ehud Olmert was still prime minister. A few days earlier the affair involving Morris Talansky was first revealed. A gag order prohibited publication of Olmert's name, but everyone knew who the "highly placed suspect," to whom Talansky gave tens of thousands of dollars, was. On the eve of Memorial Day, investigators raided Olmert's office and copied hundreds of documents. After the holidays the gag order expired, and the prime minister declared he would resign if an indictment was served against him.
Olmert spent Independence Day 2008, between ceremonies, in the Prime Minister's Residence, waiting for developments in the investigation, and for decisions by the attorney general and the court. He will spend this Independence Day 2010 wherever he spends it, under remarkably similar circumstances - but without the immunity that protected him from arrest when he was premier and allowed him to dictate when investigators could interrogate him.
Until the time this was written, yesterday morning, nobody had summoned Olmert for questioning regarding the Holyland affair. But all of his associates, former aides and successors in the Jerusalem Municipality are being interrogated and arrested because of it.
In the old days, Olmert did everything to keep his interrogators from finding any new shred of evidence against him. However, he made one mistake in this regard last Friday. In an attempt to get rid of a Channel 10 TV news team that was pursuing him, he put his hand in front of their camera's lens - a familiar gesture of criminals. His staff immediately understood the need for damage control, and within the next 24 hours, Olmert was interviewed in two newspapers, on Channel 2 news and on the Army Radio morning news program, trying to appear cool as a cucumber.
The Holyland story is still in its infancy. Years of investigations, unexpected developments, appeals, discussions and hearings - all this could lie between the initial arrests and indictments. In any event, it looks as though Olmert will be spending the next few years in courtrooms. Even those close to him who believed that he would return to politics, to the leadership of Kadima or perhaps to the premiership, understand that that is all a pipe dream.
As a concerned citizen, as a minister in Sharon's government, as the head of the opposition and in the past year as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has sounded the warning: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is another Hitler, and we are on the eve of the Nazis' rise to power. And in his speech this week at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem, he was unequivocal: "Iran's leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel. But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest, which is also fading away."
President Shimon Peres, who spoke after him, said similar things: "The ears of the UN have to be attuned to the threats of extermination uttered by one member country against another member country."
As opposed to the premier, however, Peres does not believe that an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear project would be effective. Nonetheless, even if he is not aware of it, Peres too is bringing Israel closer to such a strike.
One person in the know said this week that in the days preceding Holocaust Day, there were consultations between associates of the president and the prime minister's people - and at a certain point between Peres and Netanyahu directly - on how the two should deal with the "Iranian threat" in their speeches. Some of those involved did not think that a comparison should be made between Israel of 2010 and the defenseless Jews of Europe in the last century. This was, however, a minority view that was rejected by the Prime Minister's Office. People in the PMO apparently also asked other VIPs who were slated to speak on Holocaust Day to talk about Ahmadinejad and nuclear weapons. At least one senior official replied that the comparison dishonors the memory of the Holocaust.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke Monday at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, and also devoted a chapter to the Iranian saga, declaring: "The rise in racism is the outcome of a conciliatory attitude toward Holocaust deniers, first and foremost the Iranian president, who calls for the destruction of the Jewish people. This time there is an option: We will not hesitate to act against anyone who threatens the Jewish people."
A few months ago, in an interview with the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Barak said: "Iran does not constitute an existential threat to the State of Israel. I don't see anyone who can present an existential threat to Israel." And in an interview with Haaretz Magazine about a year ago, Barak said: "The State of Israel is not European Jewry. We are a strong country to which the whole world attributes nuclear capability, and in regional terms we are a superpower. Israel is more exposed to terrorism in its streets than to direct attempts to destroy it. I admit I do not like the comparison with the Holocaust, because it cheapens the Holocaust and stretches current challenges beyond their proper place. There is no one that will dare try to destroy Israel."
What is the meaning of the defense minister's about-face? Those close to him either don't want - or are unable - to answer that question, but there are several possibilities: Either Barak has decided to follow the premier's lead and to contribute his part to the hysteria surrounding the Iranian holocaust, or he has changed his mind, or he has forgotten what he once said.
Bible Quiz dream
Avner Netanyahu's participation in the finals of the World Bible Quiz on Independence Day in Jerusalem is a wet dream for the event's organizers (if they have them): the son of the prime minister, a bona-fide contestant? Not to mention the possible sensation of 15-year-old Avner being crowned the winner - by his father.
Up until a few days ago, it was clear that the asking of what is called the "prime minister's question" - a custom as old as the quiz itself - could not be done this time by the prime minister himself. Netanyahu himself deliberated about the matter. While he was deliberating, he read in the newspaper - to his astonishment - that the organizers of the contest had already found someone to do the job: Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin.
After the Speaker acceded, meetings were arranged between him with the contestants and the event's producers. It was agreed that he would receive the question a few days before the quiz, and could comment on it. After the question is accepted by all the parties involved, the envelope containing it will be placed in the safe in Rivlin's office and will be brought by him personally to Binyanei Ha'uma for the quiz.
Had they been as careful about confidentiality and encoding of documents in the office of the head of the army's Central Command, we would be in a different situation today.
Rivlin was excited as only he can be. But earlier this week, the PMO approached the contest's organizers, with what was either a complaint, a plea or a supplication: to allow Benjamin Netanyahu, under these unusual circumstances, to ask his son and the other contestants the "prime minister's question."
The organizers understood that this was a request that could not be refused. They apologized to the Knesset Speaker and agreed on the following conditions with the PMO: The sealed envelope with the question will be handed to him only when he goes onstage. In that way he will not be able to leak any information about it to any of the contestants, something that could determine the fate of the quiz. The PMO reported that Netanyahu intends to be very strict about field security-related considerations when it comes to handling the secret question.
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