Agnew and Nixon, Israeli-style

Avraham Hirchson is approaching - with differences in locale and circumstances - the role of the Israeli parallel to Agnew.

According to tradition, Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was written on the back of an envelope. Maryland contractors Lester Matz and John Childs were also remembered in a footnote of American history, thanks to the envelopes they used to bribe then vice president Spiro Agnew, who received tens of thousands of dollars from them in exchange for diverting tenders their way, while he served as county executive of Baltimore County and governor of Maryland, and later in the office adjacent to the White House.

Agnew was convicted in a plea bargain, was then fined and criminal charges were brought against him, while everyone was watching the gradual decline of president Richard Nixon in the swamp of the Watergate affair. Ten months later, Nixon resigned as well.

According to the suspicions being investigated at present by local police, which also apparently concern envelopes stuffed with cash, Avraham Hirchson is approaching - with differences in locale and circumstances - the role of the Israeli parallel to Agnew. The context is similar as well: While public interest is focused on inquests by the state comptroller, discussions in the State Prosecutor's Office and police investigations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the finance minister's most important political partner, Hirchson has popped up at the top of the list of those under investigation and stolen all the headlines.

It is possible that a problematic connection between the two politicians will be proved. Hirchson helped Olmert politically, and perhaps financially as well; Olmert appointed Hirchson's life partner to a job in the Small Business Authority. But even without any involvement of the prime minister in the treasury minister's scandals, if "Spiro" Hirchson resigns, will "Richard" Olmert be able to hold on to the horns of his office for many more months?

Hirchson was the head of Olmert's headquarters during the Likud race against Ariel Sharon in 1999. He knows what was done at the time for Olmert's benefit, how much activists were paid, who forged voter registration lists in a manner that caused Sharon to say at the time - according to the information in the hands of the police and the State Prosecution - that Olmert "is doing terrible things," and "I would stick it to him."

The two, Olmert and Hirchson, are very familiar with each other's secrets. If what is being investigated now was not known at all to Olmert before Hirchson's appointment, that means the prime minister was very negligent in examining the background of a veteran ally before placing the national coffers in his hands. The problem is equally serious if he knew and preferred to ignore it.

In his struggle to survive in his job, Olmert is nurturing the legend that the Israeli public elected him prime minister. In fact, the only ones who were personally elected were Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Sharon. Up until 1996 and after 2001, only Knesset slates were chosen, which afterward played the political games of elected officials among themselves.

Had Amir Peretz or Rafi Eitan or Ahmed Tibi formed the government last year, relying on a Knesset majority, that would still have been an expression of the same elusive concept of "the will of the voter." In the Knesset elections Olmert was not elected prime minister - in the same way that Moshe Katsav was not elected to the presidency. If the will of the voter is reflected only at the head of the list, it was distorted by Olmert as Sharon's deputy, or by Yitzhak Rabin after Golda Meir in 1974.

Olmert was not chosen personally, but he did choose Hirchson. He preferred to give the defense portfolio to Peretz so that the finance portfolio would go to Hirchson. The most important portfolio in the government - the portfolio that Mapai (the forerunner of Labor) gave to Eliezer Kaplan, Levy Eshkol and Pinhas Sapir - was bestowed upon someone whose main attribute was personal loyalty, a quality of supreme importance for a politician like Olmert, who knows how to leverage public money, especially when inside the treasury, Accountant General Yaron Zelekha is already carrying out an investigation against him. It's not "Sapir." It's "Spiro."