A Government or a Joke

Should government be fighting over clearing Ramon's name in days where there are critical defense decisions to be made?

Many citizens were asking themselves on Sunday if this institution, which spends hours upon hours discussing the establishment of a committee to investigate the conduct of the law enforcement authorities in the wiretapping of former justice minister Haim Ramon, is a government or a joke.

The subject of the debate, indeed the whole idea of clearing Ramon's name retroactively, makes us wonder if this is what the government should be fighting over in days like these, with such critical defense decisions to be made, with the home front still vulnerable two years after the Second Lebanon War, with the release of Gilad Shalit slipping through our fingers. Is this really the time to dwell on Haim Ramon and the affront to his so-called honor?

It's been a while since I have seen so many furious people, citizens who feel the government is busying itself with trivia masquerading as concern for democracy.

If Ramon was so upset about how the law enforcement system dealt with him, why didn't he appeal? The entire government has to spend a whole day on Ramon's lost honor when the provident funds are collapsing and the price of basic commodities is rising? When anyone who isn't on TheMarker's list of 500 millionaires is going down the tube? When President Shimon Peres tells people in private that a peace accord with the Palestinians doesn't stand a chance? When the discouraged leaders of the Palestinian Authority are openly saying that Nasrallah has us down on our knees?

The government spent a full day engaged in a shameful shouting match until a decision was reached to turn the matter over to the state comptroller. The sole consolation to frustrated citizens is that they can count on a tough cookie like Micha Lindenstrauss to see to it that those who wanted to take another bite out of the law enforcement authorities will regret the day they ever contemplated establishing a committee of inquiry.

From day to day, the government is revealing its knack for self-destruction. Its prestige, authority, credibility and popularity have reached an unprecedented low. Never in the last 60 years have we seen such a seething rift between the executive branch of the government and its judicial branch. Old-timers are getting all misty-eyed thinking back on the likes of Pinhas Rosen, Yaakov Shimshon Shapira and Haim Zadok, justice ministers who were above the political fray and who devoted themselves solely to promoting a level-headed, non-partisan judicial system.

It is Justice Minister Daniel Friedman who has dropped a burning match into the gas canister, setting off a raging fire. And who is sitting there saying nothing and even enjoying the show but Ehud Olmert. After all, the less faith people have in the legal system, the more likely it is that his prediction of staying put until the end of his term will come true.

A government that was meant to work in harmony is becoming a government of national discord. When was the last time we had a government in which five cabinet ministers - Livni, Olmert, Mofaz, Dichter and Barak - couldn't stand one another? A prime minister on the edge of the abyss and four ministers who have openly said they have no faith in him and intend to oust him? On top of that, imagine a prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister who don't get along. How can anything work when the three leaders who are supposed to run the state in harmony are busy undermining one another?

All the Labor ministers detest one another, and together, they all loathe Ghaleb Majadele. As for Shas, nobody ever knows until the last minute what it thinks about anything. Everything depends on what and how much it gets. We've had minority governments and unity governments and emergency governments and rotation governments. But this is the first time we've ever had a national disunity government.

Two ministers, Livni and Dichter, have publicly demanded Olmert's resignation. He more or less told them to kiss his posterior. But the fact that he hasn't fired them, and the fact that they continue to serve in an administration led by a person in whom they have no faith, is unprecedented. As Ariel Sharon used to say, those deerskin seats in the cabinet meeting room are so hard to give up.

If the Kadima primaries are held in November, as Ramon claims, Olmert could remain in office until the spring of 2009. Is there any precedent for a controversial prime minister, mired in a police inquiry critical for clearing his name, continuing to fulfill his duties? Don't be so sure there isn't. If it weren't so funny, it could make a grown man cry.