Black February Began in January

The changes in government, the reshuffling of new and old ministers, might as well begin with the prime minister.

The conviction of MK Haim Ramon yesterday is groundbreaking from a social and legal point of view. Inherent in the decision is the ability to contribute to the shaping of a new and rigorous code of conduct for public figures, in the spirit of the warning issued by Major General Gadi Shamni, that "today's compromise becomes tomorrow's norm."

As a politician who got in trouble while in office, a moment before a cabinet meeting convened to make fateful decisions, the ruling in Ramon's case is a binding statement of what is and is not acceptable under such circumstances. Moreover, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court yesterday a fact was established, whose implications will become clearer in the coming weeks: A shock to the seat of the prime minister of such magnitude, that makes it possible to wager that Ehud Olmert will lose it in the near future.

Ramon's supporters, whose media campaign in his favor drew condemnation from the judges, led by Hayuta Kochan, will argue that the ruling against him was "brutal." Judges are not computers and they are not robots. Were the identity of those sitting in judgment not important, there would not be such a fierce struggle over who sits on the Supreme Court and who is its president. It may be that different judges, perhaps a mostly male panel, would have ruled differently. But it could also be said, which is how the state prosecution saw it, that had a different district court judge been in charge of Ehud Olmert's 1997 trial instead of Oded Midrick, the former Jerusalem mayor might have been convicted and would have ended his political career.

Men like Shamni, military secretary to the prime minister, and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, were upset by this case no less than women like Police Brigadier General Miri Golan, who went out of her way to encourage the victim to complain, threatening her with a defamation suit. But solely emphasizing the sexual nature of the behavior that led to charges against Ramon and his conviction is unfair to the issue and the judiciary. Ramon was not only found guilty of an indecent act against an IDF officer, at a time when he was supposed to be focused on issues of life and death that were part of the decision to go to war, but he was also accused of serious flaws in his credibility during his questioning and his testimony.

Such legal rulings should in and of themselves make it difficult for Ramon to remain in public life (even though it has ensured that TV channels will soon compete for his services as a commentator, as they tend to do with ministers who were convicted in the past, such as Aryeh Deri and Yitzhak Mordechai; Gonen Segev is still unavailable). Two Olmert associates, his office manager, Shula Zaken, and the cabinet secretary, Israel Maimon, are henceforth stained by legal doubts as to whether they acted in good faith, during their testimony in favor of Ramon.

For Olmert, Ramon's conviction is a direct blow, not only an indirect political one, as it bolsters Mazuz - who risked a major failure when he deliberated filing charges against Ramon - as he moves toward a decision, in two to three weeks, on whether or not to instruct the police to initiate further criminal investigations against the prime minister.

In addition to the investigation into the Bank Leumi affair - which was ordered by State Prosecutor Eran Shendar, because Mazuz recused himself from the case - there will be an investigation into the investment house (the links between Olmert and his former partner, attorney Uri Messer) and the political appointments in the Small Business Authority. These will further undermine Olmert's stability in the prime minister's seat.

Following the indictment of MK Tzachi Hanegbi, the draft indictment against President Moshe Katsav, the start of a criminal investigation against Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson, the conviction of Ramon and the invalidation of claims of a "witch hunt" and of a "setup" by his judges; after all of Olmert's run-ins with the law - Olmert cannot expect that Mazuz will give him the same break that he gave his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.

February, the shortest month of the year, may also turn out to be the most bitter for Olmert. Ramon's conviction on the last day of January was only the appetizer on this menu. The changes in government, the reshuffling of new and old ministers, are indeed a great idea, and it might as well begin with the prime minister.