Hirchson's Complaint

The finance minister must file an official complaint and should not hold back from dealing with the serious phenomenon about which he has raised the alarm.

It is not quite clear how one should consider Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson's suprising announcement regarding the menacing atmosphere that surrounds him. Hirchson was ambiguous in his disclosure at the Caesarea Forum last week: He spoke of "feelings" and "suspicions" and dispersed enigmatic hints about magnates who were trying to scare him to prevent any decision-making that could harm their business interests. He did not specify names, and also avoided pointing to the directions from which the threats originated, but he described in detail the nature of the intimidation: unlawful entry into bank accounts, eavesdropping and aggressive surveillance of both Hirchson and members of his immediate family.

The Finance Minister's statements have caused a major stink in the public arena. They have left citizens wondering: Is the epidemic of corruption so intense that it has taken on the form of direct assault against the well-being and personal security of the state's leadership? And did Hirchson perhaps exhibit in his statement the emotions and amateurism of a novice? On the other hand, could we be faced with an unblemished figure whose position introduced him to a dark world, and who was so shocked by its nature that he considered it appropriate to share his experience with the entire country?

Hirchson's complaint comes a month after his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, publicly shared his experience in the same realm: He was offered a bribe to further the interests of a magnate. When doubts about the reliability of Netanyahu's claim were uttered, he rushed into Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's office and told him the whole story.

A similar story was unveiled two years ago, regarding the recording that forced National Infrastructures Minister Yosef Paritzky to leave his post. In the background of that farce lay the business competition between two firms seeking to supply natural gas to the Israel Electric Corporation. During the fracas, at least according to Paritzky, a private investigator was hired to carry out the secret recordings that were meant to embarass him. This is not unusual behavior in the business world; it is also known in the political arena and is becoming increasingly blatant and brutish.

Whether Hirchson's cry is authentic or a cynical spin meant to protect one of his sons whose name was mentioned in relation with problematic business practices, he is not entitled to benefit from the status of a child who dirties the classroom and leaves it for others to clean; he carries weighty public responsibility and he must pay the price this requires. It is not enough that he has informed the attorney general of his suspicions; he must file an official complaint and should not hold back from dealing with the serious phenomenon about which he has raised the alarm. And even if his assessments on this matter do not result in a body of evidence justifying criminal proceedings, but are sufficient to point at problematic rules governing the game between business persons and public figures, he will be required to be more specific and to reveal names.

Most of the work is the responsibility of Mazuz. His legal opinion on the suspicions against Gilad Sharon and David Appel on the matter of the Greek Island is still held against him. In that case, Mazuz expressed himself not as the person in charge of the State Prosecution but as one who looks at the evidence from the point of view of the suspect's defense attorney. He concluded that there were no real suspicions, and that the unusually high wages that entered the bank account of Gilad Sharon constituted reasonable remuneration for the services he provided Appel, and not, heaven forbid, illegal payments made to grease the efforts of an entrepreneur in government halls.

Mazuz is now faced with a similar challenge: to correctly assess the meaning of the links between wealth and power as described by Hirchson, and hopefully, he will know how to do that well.

Hirchson has offered a slit through which we can peek into the dark halls in which an apparently substantial portion of the country's economic affairs are being carried out. Mazuz is the person whose job it is to light them up.