A Clean Mantle Isn't Enough

The combination of "we're sick of the corrupt" and "anyone but Olmert" has shoved the threshold of credibility to such a degree that spineless politicians like Shaul Mofaz try to seriously lay claim to the crown.

The public attitude that is spreading as a result of the politicians' takeover of the crime columns in the newspapers, demands an updated reminder of the verse "For a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father: 'Thou hast a mantle, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand'"(Isaiah 3:6). It's sufficient that a (reserve) officer did not receive the "mantle" (hotel suite, a first-class ticket, or a contribution to a campaign), in a dubious way, for him to be dressed up in the garb of a national leader. Moral behavior, a requirement that used to be self-understood in our political environment, has become the leading quality in the race to the top. Public opinion polls suggest that the average voter is interested in the criminal past of their leaders more than their defense record - not to mention the political and economic future they are offering.

The combination of "we're sick of the corrupt" and "anyone but Olmert" has shoved the threshold of credibility to such a degree that spineless politicians like Shaul Mofaz try to seriously lay claim to the crown. According to the polls, the man who jumped at the last minute from the stalled Likud cart to the new wagon of Ariel Sharon, stands a good chance to trade in his lowly title of "minister of transportation" with the most important title in the country.

So what if a moment ago, when he ran for the leadership of the Likud, Mofaz claimed that Sharon "is friends with a number of people on the left who support the Oslo Accords and the return to the '67 lines," and warned that "they may drag him into very dangerous directions in terms of politics and defense." Just as long as the police have no file with his name on it. Before the surveys showed he was in for a major thrashing in the struggle for the leadership of the Likud, he used to call Kadima "Sharon's undemocratic movement." The day after that, he was insightful enough to note that "the Likud turned to the extreme right of the political map. That is not my direction."

And after all this, Mofaz announced: "I see no problem or question relating to credibility." After all, he has no criminal record for receiving bribes. Israeli law does not in any way prohibit the minister in charge of the strategic dialogue with the United States to suggest that Israel will strike Iran with the support and acquiescence of Washington, thus sending world oil prices sky-high. It is also possible for a candidate for the premiership of a party that presents itself as representing the moderate center to oppose negotiations with Syria, and even to promise peace with the Golan. The police will not investigate him for his reservations about negotiating a final status agreement, or the pointless proposal "to go for an interim agreement that will not include the refugees and Jerusalem, but will ensure a Palestinian state within temporary borders."

Compared to Mofaz, who is tilting to the right, Tzipi Livni, his main rival in the championship of the clean hands, is trying to benefit from the best of both worlds. Sometimes she talks in favor of a speedy permanent agreement, which of course includes the division of Jerusalem; other times she announces that "the Palestinians can celebrate their independence day only if they remove the word 'Nakba' [catastrophe] from their dictionary." One day she spends time with Mahmoud Abbas looking over maps, and then the day after the Paris conference of the Union for the Mediterranean, she surprises participants by giving views on the closing statement that would not shame Benjamin Netanyahu.

The third candidate, Avi Dichter, could easily pass the entrance exams for membership in the Likud.

Meir Sheetrit is the only Kadima leader who supports negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians on the basis of the Arab League's peace initiative of 2002, but he comes in fourth with nearly no chance at being elected.

During a Labor Party meeting in late May, in which the functionaries issued an ultimatum on replacing Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that "if they [Kadima] do not decide - we shall decide for them on the basis of what is best for the State of Israel." What will he say if the members of Kadima decide that Mofaz or Dichter are the best leaders for the country - if the democratic aspect of their selection is flawed, in his eyes? And what kind of bargaining power will Barak have in negotiations with Livni over the new government's policies on peace, security, economics and society, after she is elected to the leadership of Kadima?

At the same meeting Barak promised that "we are motivated by the good of the country." Prior to the Kadima primary he should present his recipe for the "good of the country." A clean mantle is an essential component, but it is far from being enough.