A Worthy Successor

Olmert seems to be a worthy successor to Sharon, but the burden on a prime minister is particularly weighty, and it is risky to impose it on someone who has been diagnosed with political amnesia and negligence, as acquitted as he may be.

Power, said Henry Kissinger, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Kissinger used this to explain why an expert - with a thick German accent - in the convoluted nuances of nuclear deterrence became an object of desire for a Hollywood blonde. Power, one can add upon consideration of Israeli politics, is also the best antiseptic. Taking the reins of power retroactively cleans all the stains and smells along the way.

The current model for this is Ehud Olmert, the frequency of whose meetings with the police rivaled that of a Civil Guard volunteer. Olmert, in keeping with the hymns of praise from his supporters, is indeed a worthy successor to Ariel Sharon. Both have the tendency to enter the thicket of criminal suspicions, as well as the ability to worm their way out of these suspicions even if they are smeared with harsh words that would have caused a sensitive citizen of good conscience to shut himself up in his home - but did not interfere with them climbing onward and upward. When the dry facts, under their signature, spoke against them, they both whipped out a similar argument from the family of the "psychological element" that is necessary for conviction: Those who were working under them - Omri Sharon, the Likud treasury people - had hidden their deceptions from them.

This claim, of not knowing what is going on in the area for which the individual is responsible, has to be a two-edged sword that cuts through the criminal rope around the necks at the price of a fatal public stabbing. How is anyone who does not manage to have control of the finances of an election campaign - with the excuse of being engaged in campaigning and organizing and trips - going to run a country? How is anyone whose aides, officials or sons have lured him into signing false authorizations going to oversee Israel Defense Forces generals and Finance Ministry budget managers?

The indictment, "The State of Israel versus Ehud Olmert," Case 329/96, ended in 1997 with an acquittal. Judge Oded Mudrik decided to purify Olmert's deeds. "The defendant signed a declaration that contains false information," determined Mudrik, but "it was not proven that he was aware of the falsehood or turned a blind eye to it."

Mudrik, who made mention of the television series, "Yes, Minister," was also not convinced of Olmert's involvement in the fraudulent receipts at the basis of the fundraising.

According to one of the versions of the story that was heard at the trial, without determining their truth postmortem, the official from whom the defendants (Mordechai Yahel, Yona Peled and Mordechai Atzmon) drew their authority was the late Eitan Livni - the father of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Along with the acquittal, Judge Mudrik made the following comments about Olmert that those who are being asked to vote for him should keep in mind: "Olmert boasted that there had been scrupulous review on his part"; "His testimony in the court was refuted in a number of ways, hidden from the eye and contradicted by the facts"; "There was no close supervision" and therefore "he did not see the various elements of the activities passing before him one by one"; and "He was exceedingly negligent in fulfilling his obligations."

Only two years went by, and in the race against Sharon it emerged that Olmert had not learned his lesson. The investigation of his relations with contractor David Appel found that his office manager, Shula Zaken, had phoned Appel, asked him for a contribution to Olmert's election campaign, and arranged the visit by the mayor of Athens, suiting it to his needs. Olmert joined the conversation on an extension and said to Appel, "Whatever you want, just tell me," but Attorney General Menachem Mazuz realized that Zaken had implicated Olmert through no fault of his own - "Yes, Mr. Mayor" - and closed the case.

In the affair of the Likud receipts, Mudrik mentioned with skepticism one of the witnesses' problems with his memory, which conveniently became confused. At that time, the judge did not remember that forgetting is a common human phenomenon. Olmert remembered hardly anything in the Appel case - not the Greek delegation, not the special help that Appel had requested, and not even whether such help had been received. This was the second incident that caused Olmert an attack of amnesia. The first was recorded in 1988, in criminal case 84/87 against Yehoshua Halperin of the Bank of North America. Olmert, the witness for the prosecution, had borrowed $50,000 from Halperin interest-free, but found at least 12 different ways to say that he could not remember.

Human, but worrying. What availeth such an innocent leader, if his subordinates exploit his integrity and his faith in mankind? The burden on a prime minister is particularly weighty, and it is risky to impose it on someone who has been diagnosed with such amnesia and negligence, as acquitted as he may be.