The Rotters and the Oligarch

Uzi Dayan was the only one. The press mentioned that Dayan, who founded a political party dedicated to fighting corruption in government, had been at Arkady Gaidamak's must-be-seen-at New Year bash at the Tel Aviv port. But Dayan hastened to correct that impression: he had not been there. Another Uzi had been there, Uzi Arad, not him.

Dayan was the only one. The celebrities elbowing to get into Gaidamak's glitzfest were only too happy to be noted for their presence. The glamour girls and boys, the soccer stars and the models, businessmen such as Ron Lauder, Ron Lubash, Danny Brenner or Shlomo Rothman, and public personalities such as Danny Yatom - none complained about mistakes in the paper, because it was no mistake. They had all been at that party hosted by a man who has been called a "Russian oligarch", who a month before had been questioned at the international fraud squad on suspicions of money-laundering and for whom the French have issued an extradition warrant.

Dayan is the only righteous man in Sodom, and Sodom starts at the level of the deputy prime minister.

Actually, finance minister, industry minister and deputy PM Ehud Olmert was not at the party, as the press noted, perhaps because he didn't need to be there. Olmert does not need to rub shoulders and the celebs in order to win the spotlight and adulation of the billionaire oligarch. His good relations with Gaidamak are well known and one party more or less won't affect them.

The best man

Olmert was the best man who brought Gaidamak to buy Hapoalim Jerusalem basketball team half a year ago. A month later he was the best man who arranged his takeover of Beitar Jerusalem, a soccer team.

"At the end of the meeting," the press described the agree to change ownership, "Fenijel, Levi and Gaidamak came out and handed an announcement to the stunned reporters, that read, 'businessman Arkady Gaidamak has reached an understanding with the owners of Beitar Jerusalem, Meir Fenijel and Meir Levi, about buying all ownership rights to the soccer club? acting prime minister Ehud Olmert gave his blessing to the understandings."

At the time acting prime minister Ehud Olmert was also the Industry minister and had been serving as acting finance minister for two weeks, after Benjamin Netanyahu quit in early August 2005. Those were two weeks during which the budget was presented to government for approval and the acting finance minister should have been delving deep into the bowels of the budget and Finance Ministry.

Meaning, they should have been an intensely busy two weeks for the senior minister who had suddenly found himself also holding the second-most important portfolio in government, right smack in the middle of vastly important, fateful economic decisions. Yet the acting finance minister and industry minister had time enough to discuss the acquisition of Beitar Jerusalem with Arkady Gaidamak.

How many hours in a day

There must be many hours in the day of the acting prime minister, who has meanwhile taken the Finance portfolio on a permanent basis. Many hours, which are governed by a very clear set of priorities: the state budget is urgent, yes, but the issues of Beitar Jerusalem and adulatory headlines Olmert would get on the sports pages for his involvement in the soccer club are more urgent. Many hours in which he had not one spare second for thought about why the finance minister and acting prime minister of a law-abiding democratic country is becoming involved in the business of a person suspected of money-laundering and who is wanted elsewhere in the world.

True, Gaidamak has never been charged with a thing. He is suspected of offenses concerning money-laundering and in a law-abiding country, people are innocent until proven guilty. Olmert is breaking no law by proudly rubbing shoulders with Gaidamak.

But a senior minister who tomorrow will be serving as prime minister in practice as Sharon enters cardiac catheterization surgery must do more than adhere to the letter of the law. He must also meet rules of ethical conduct, which would suggest he eschew the company of a person suspected of grave crimes.

They call it unholy links between wealth and power and in any other country a top minister would be ashamed for his name to be mentioned in such a context. But for Olmert it's a source of pride: he evidently fails to understand what a top minister's standards of conduct should be and as such he is not fit to serve a finance minister, and certainly not as acting prime minister.

At second thought, in a country where the prime minister himself has been called the "father of the rot", literally and figuratively, maybe there is no reason to point fingers at the acting prime minister.