Corruption Around the Corner

Being forgiving to politicians succeeded by breaking the law, discriminates against their honest rivals, politicians who obeyed the law.

The various cases involving Ehud Olmert which preoccupy the attorney general, the state prosecutor and Israel Police began as probes by the state comptroller even before the Knesset voted him in as prime minister. The issues have nothing to do with his conduct as prime minister; as such it is deceptive to present them as matters that threaten to undermine voters' wishes. Olmert was probed, investigated and suspected at the time he was elected, and is not a prime minister that was pushed into interrogation rooms by evil forces.

Throughout this period, Olmert has been presented as a victim: The state comptroller persecuted him, the accountant general harassed him and the police investigators bothered him because they kept calling him, begging for a sliver of time from his busy schedule.

Olmert, immune from being searched, is a deluxe suspect. In the case of the house on Cremieux Street, which seems to be more difficult to indict on, he is asking for the investigators to speed things up. In other cases, he is more reluctant. Perhaps this tells us something.

In properly functioning countries there are witness protection programs. Here, Olmert's supporters are running a program for targeting witnesses. There are cases where the accused are spared because they are insane; here insanity is being thrown back at the plaintiffs and investigators. One of them, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, now has another mission: to supervise the state-funded defense attorneys for Olmert before the Winograd Committee in order to avoid the possibility that such funding will go to cover their work in the criminal cases against him.

Olmert is only the most senior suspect in the four cases with his name on them. To his side stand the officials at the Jerusalem Municipality, attorney Tami Ben-David and government secretary Oved Yehezkel - and this is only a partial list. Whoever is demanding that the investigations of Olmert be postponed until the end of his tenure is discriminating against the other suspects, or perhaps also wants to give them a break.

This is a trial period for three people: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. Last week, Barak made an appearence, wearing a grave face, and demanded that Israelis behave as if "war is just around the corner." It is more appropriate to urgently direct this request to Barak, as a member in the Olmert government, which commands the Israel Defense Forces. If Barak agrees to stay in a government whose leader is burdened by a series of cases and may even be put on trial, he will be derelict of the trust soldiers and civilians put in him. Corruption lurks around the corner and is a lot more likely than war.

A military commander must be trusted beyond all suspicion. He must not cause his soldiers to doubt the purity of his motives, as he sends them off to risk their lives. If there is a cloud of suspicion over him, he must clear his place for others whose integrity can be trusted. A prime minister is a citizen and an elected official, not a military commander. However, as the head of a group of ministers that directs military commanders, and through them soldiers, he must be held to the same public standard.

Barak refuses to say what his position on this issue is. In practice, he is covering for Olmert by his readiness to serve in his cabinet during a period of suspicions, investigations, and soon, depending on the hearings and a decision by State Prosecutor Eran Shendar, an indictment in the case of the tender for privatizing Bank Leumi.

For a single, passing minute, when the Winograd Committee's interim report was released, Livni was a righteous rebel. Her rapid defeat sent here reeling back to her position as deputy, waiting on the sidelines for Olmert's fall. She is carrying out empty maneuvers so long as Olmert remains above her, caught up with the cases against him.

Mazuz was inclined to close the Cremieux Street case, but suddenly changed his mind. It is likely he is worried he will not be able to convince the Supreme Court and its President Dorit Beinisch that closing the case without a police investigation is a reasonable thing to do. If this is what he does in a case he considers shaky, he will certainly do the same in the cases of the investment center and the small business authority. In view of the petition to the High Court of Justice, calling for Olmert to step down (as opposed to his resignation which is not required by law), Mazuz will find it difficult to protect the prime minister.

Being forgiving to politicians who climbed to the top by breaking the law will discriminate against three groups: their rivals, politicians who obeyed the law; the usual suspects; and the citizens who deserve an honest leadership. If the government refuses to recognize this and rallies around Olmert, he will also stigmatize them.