Above Suspicion

The attorney general has done the justice minister a favor. Only a court can erase a stain without smearing it, and a minister cannot walk around tainted with suspicion.

One may hope the stain in this case is completely removed, and that it transpires that a "two-to-three-second kiss" was not a fatal kiss.

Haim Ramon did the right thing by announcing his resignation and deciding to waive a hearing, as well as his parliamentary immunity.

Thus he spared himself drawn-out legal proceedings and set an example for proper behavior.

The cabinet may decide on a substitute for him by this morning, and the question is now who will replace him.

This is an opportunity for Ehud Olmert to prove he has learned from everything that happened here in the past month. What happened is crystal clear: The public's confidence in its leaders has collapsed. Therefore, appointing a temporary or permanent justice minister will be the first sign of the cabinet's demeanor after the disaster. If the cabinet continues to act as it has so far, appointing the same kind of people, it will be absolutely clear that Olmert and his entire crew are beyond hope.

Appointing a crony of Olmert's to the post merely for being a crony is unacceptable. Olmert's cronies have already been awarded their posts, something neither they nor we deserve, and just last week yet another crony was appointed to deal with the POW exchange. I would recommend to Olmert that he choose someone who is known not to be his crony this time. Israel still has many honest people - not necessarily Kadima members - who could bring some semblance of respectability to a cabinet whose integrity is in ruins and whose credibility is in tatters.

Roni Bar-On's name was mentioned among the candidates. I am not comfortable writing about him because I consider him a friend. But the prime minister and ministers are not the only ones required to have integrity; writers are, too.Bar-On is not a suitable candidate, not only because of his friendship with Olmert, which could look bad, and in the Justice Ministry things must be above board. Bar-On is the interior minister, and the interior minister has never been as busy as he is now. Numerous local councils collapsed during the war, and others are in crisis. Only a few can continue to function in this plight they are in.

Even if Bar-On is considered a talented minister, he is no Atlas. Serving as both interior and justice minister at the same time is too much, even for him.

Secondly, Bar-On has already been burned once, so he and anyone thinking of appointing him should be careful. He was once attorney general for 48 hours, and was forced to resign due to suspicions that have never been cleared. The shadow of these suspicions may be found in a special report compiled by former attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein and Edna Arbel, today both Supreme Court justices.

There is a dubious custom in Israel of moving persons unwanted in one position into a higher position. An inquiry commission disqualified Ariel Sharon from serving as defense minister, and in time he was elected prime minister. Amir Peretz was not offered the treasury, but was appointed defense minister - and in a time of war, no less. And a public that never dreamed of seeing Olmert's political career soar, after Olmert was pushed to the end of the Likud's Knesset list and even considered retiring from political life, saw him reach the prime minister's office.

Will this rule now apply to Bar-On as well? If so, we may soon conclude that disqualification from a public position is a sure mark for promotion.

The justice minister cannot rescue the government from the pit it has fallen into. Perhaps he will be able to wipe away one wrinkle from its battered, wizened face. For that the successor must be trustworthy, independent and beyond suspicion.

Any other choice would soon require the cabinet to appoint a successor for the successor.