Crime Without a Punishment

The man with responsibility for the decision to go to war and for the manner in which it was conducted survived the committee's deliberations, while those subordinate to him have paid the price.

On August 14, 2006, Ehud Olmert stood on the speaker's dais in the Knesset plenum and declared: "Overall responsibility for this operation is mine as prime minister. I have no intention of sharing this responsibility with anyone and I do not want to do so. This is a responsibility that is part of the job of the prime minister."

The "operation" to which Olmert was referring was the Second Lebanon War, which at the time that the prime minister spoke was seen as punishment that had been inflicted on the country by its leaders. Olmert stood erect in the turret and declared simply: "I am responsible."

Fifteen months later the prime minister continues to run the affairs of state as though he is not responsible for the shameful failure of the war. The other VIPs have publicly paid the proper price: Dan Halutz left the Israel Defense Forces in disgrace and Amir Peretz was removed from the Defense Minister's office. Most of the senior officers who were in charge of running the campaign in Lebanon came to the appropriate conclusions, or were forced to do so, and took off their uniforms. Only Olmert sees no need to realize the decision mentioned in his declaration in the Knesset, and continues to hold on to his seat.

In addition, the Winograd Committee, which received the authorization to demand an accounting from those who led the country into the tragic fiasco in Lebanon, announced last week that it will make do with systemic recommendations. In other words, it does not think that its job is to decide whether Olmert is worthy of continuing to serve as prime minister; it is handing over the decision on this issue to the public. Although it expressed its opinion on Olmert's functioning during the war in the partial report it published about half a year ago, the committee does not feel a need to come out with the necessary conclusion.

The Winograd Committee's avoidance of its public role - to clearly express its opinion about the prime minister's moral right and ability to hold onto his position - stems from the way it conducted itself. The committee, which deigns to present to the government authorities structural and systemic recommendations that are supposed to be a model for proper administration of the affairs of state, did not plan its steps well. The committee finds itself in a situation in which it is afraid of High Court of Justice decisions, it avoids replying fully to the petitions of the military defense, and it is being pushed into a corner because of the manner in which it chose to deal with the demand to allow people liable to be harmed by its conclusions to defend themselves.

The ensuing result is infuriating, and undermines our natural sense of justice: The man with the ultimate responsibility for the decision to go to war and for the manner in which it was conducted has survived the committee's deliberations, while those subordinate to him have paid the maximum public price for the failures.

Our natural sense of justice is also undermined by the probable result of the legal proceedings concerning crimes attributed to the former president, Moshe Katsav. In this affair as well, the behavior of both the State Prosecutor's Office and the attorney general - and the legal trap into which they put themselves - is leading to an absurd outcome: The man who is suspected of a long series of incidents involving sexual harassment is about to be let off with a ridiculously light punishment. According to the plea bargain cooked up by Katsav's attorneys with the attorney general, the proceedings against the former president will be limited in focus to two incidents of minor harassment which, according to the Supreme Court president, probably cannot be considered a sexual offense.

As in the case of the investigation of the war in Lebanon, in this case as well the legal, or quasi-legal system (a government committee of inquiry), has been maneuvered in a manner that enables the objects of the investigation to evade the full force of the law. Instead of being held responsible for harassing a long series of young women who were subordinate to him - presumably criminal behavior that was a recurring pattern in his case - Katsav emerged with a minor punishment of conditional arrest and will continue to claim that the two acts attributed to him in the indictment were not genuine criminal offenses.

The formal legal code may permit the infuriating outcomes in these two cases, but our natural sense of justice rebels against it and spurs the public to lose its faith in the validity of the principle of crime and punishment.