A Problem Named Olmert

Had public opinion and the media been more alert before the choice was made, it is quite possible that the problem named Olmert would not have been created in the first place.

Ehud Olmert's friends have come up with a new suggestion: immunity "like in France." Both Avi Dichter, currently a cabinet minister, and Yosef Lapid, a former one, are men of the world, and they know what is customary abroad. Under their proposal, the prime minister would not be investigated as long as he is in office. The suspicions hovering above his head would be examined when he finishes his term. Dichter is signaling to the investigators who answer to him that all their hard work is unnecessary because important people are the law's masters, rather than its servants. Dichter himself may also be among the aristocracy. He apparently draws his insights on issues of law and justice from the tradition of the Shin Bet security service.

Innovators like them should know better: Just as one does not use proof brought by fools, one does not use proof of proper administration supplied by the French. Although France has unique strengths in many important areas, properly behaved rulers is not one of them. When a politician delves into the study of proper behavior and deliberates on which path to choose, he is not necessarily sent to emulate the French.

It is easy to imagine what will happen if the suggestion by Olmert's friends is adopted. After all, suspicions are currently not censored, and they soon will become common knowledge. The media will investigate them thoroughly, the public will respond, and the country will fill with gossip. Suspicions will accompany the prime minister wherever he goes. He will try to fend them off, but even his bodyguards won't be able to help. The suspicions will continue to pursue him, and since they cannot be clarified in an official forum, they will be discussed on every platform and in front of every microphone. It is better for a public figure to be cross-examined by the police than be crucified in broad daylight.

The very suggestion does Olmert a wrong when no wrongdoing on his part has been proven. Among other things, it raises the suspicion that he has something to evade, that the investigation frightens him so much that it is diverting his attention from affairs of state.

And why should it frighten and divert him? If Olmert is convinced of his innocence, he has no reason to worry. If the cases pending against him are a chimera, why should he let them take root? Why shouldn't he pick up the phone to Lapid and Dichter today and tell them not to do him any favors that do not benefit him? After all, the web woven around him is dragging him down to a nadir of trust, and only an accepted procedure is capable of cutting through it. Olmert's only hope is a proper investigation.

Public trust is the main thing; all the rest is secondary. Suspicions rather than investigations are oppressing the prime minister and interfering with his work. There is only one way to refute them, and that is not through postponement and delay. Olmert needs trust now, not after he retires. The public wants to be certain now, not later, that the person in charge is a decent man and not a closet criminal, that the Prime Minister's Office has not become a place of refuge and will not become a magnet for dubious characters. And that the decisions made there are practical and unrelated to the decision maker's tough situation.

How will they believe if there is no trust? What is the point of an investigation into a presumed criminal when it takes place in a senior citizens' home for debilitated civil-service workers? The decisions to be taken in the near future are described as "crucial decisions." It is impossible to decide inside a deep, dark pit, and it is impossible to avoid deciding when the venom of doubt is poisoning the country. Woe to the prime minister who is convicted because of doubt, and woe to us if doubt is what acquits him. A person is allowed to be prime minister only when he is beyond criminal suspicion.

The suspicions linked to Olmert are not new, for the most part. They have accompanied him for years. Therefore I have an alternative suggestion to the one by his friends: Instead of postponing, move things forward; instead of investigating after his term runs out, the investigation should take place beforehand. Had public opinion and the media been more alert before the choice was made, it is quite possible that the problem named Olmert would not have been created in the first place.