Like Sharon in the Libel Suit

Olmert will not be able to continue being considered a legitimate leader for long, trapped between the contradiction of his legal conduct and the behavior that the public requires of him.

During the early stage of the libel suit Ariel Sharon filed against myself and Haaretz, we asked for a preliminary deposition from Menachem Begin. The prosecution focused on a paragraph in a column I wrote 17 years ago in which I asserted that Begin knew, in retrospect, that then-defense minister Ariel Sharon had deceived him during the First Lebanon War. When the suit was filed, Begin's age and health led us to ask that he testify off-site, before the trial began officially. Sharon and his attorneys did not agree with our request. Initially they opposed it entirely, and then they relied on the position of the judge (Vardi Zeiler) that our request did not rely on substantiated medial evidence, and said they would respond only after we filed a request that was fully documented. Three weeks passed and Menachem Begin was hospitalized, unconscious, and died a week later.

The tactics adopted by Sharon at the early stages of the legal proceedings continued in later stages too: even though he declared that he was very interested in exposing the truth about the Lebanon War; even if he said he considered the libel suit an opportunity to deal once and for all with the allegations against him - that he tricked the prime minister during the war - he and his attorneys did everything possible to limit examination in court. They opposed the filing of witness depositions on our behalf, they took the state's position, which refused to declassify transcripts of government and Israel Defense Forces discussions during the war, they prevented us from presenting in court quotes from notes that allegedly documented verbal exchanges between Sharon and senior commanders during the campaign. All the while they did not fail to accompany their opposition with declarations of how badly they wanted to clear the air about that war.

From a legal point of view, the way Sharon and his attorneys conducted themselves was perfectly acceptable: They used every trick that they knew to make it more difficult for us to prove our version. (In the end, the court rejected the libel suit). This approach was less fitting from a public and ethical point of view, and contradicted the image that Sharon adopted, as one who is eager to present the internal ongoings of the high command and the governmen that led the IDF to Beirut in June 1982.

The behavior of Ehud Olmert and his attorneys these days is reminiscent of that of Sharon during the libel suit in 1991. Like Sharon, Olmert is giving the impression that he has nothing to hide and is interested in clarifying all suspicions against him, as soon as possible. At the same time, he and his lawyers are doing everything in their power to delay the process: They oppose the early deposition of Morris Talansky, they are delaying until the end of the week the next police questioning of the prime minister, and they are putting off accepting the investigation materials the prosecution would like to give them. They are conducting themselves in an acceptable manner from a legal point of view, but with the aim of making it more difficult for the police and the prosecution, who are rummaging through documents. Meanwhile, their conduct contradicts the image that Olmert is trying to give off, as one who is innocent and who has nothing to hide.

Olmert will not be able to continue being considered a legitimate leader for long, trapped between the contradiction of his legal conduct and the behavior that the public requires of him. The public will not be able to remain patient for long when confronted with the gap between the impression that Olmert is seeking to give off, as one who is cooperating with the investigators, and the obstacles that his attorneys are placing before law enforcement authorities, who are seeking the truth. Olmert will not be able to enjoy the public trust, when, on the one hand, he presents the payments he received as acceptable political and legal behavior - and, on the other hand, Shula Zaken, his long arm in all issues (certainly in matters of envelopes filled with cash) steadfastly holds on to her right to remain silent.

Those close to Olmert argue his priority is the welfare of his country and the investigations are disrupting his efforts to carry out his public duties. They add that the police investigation may undermine the will of the public that voted him in as prime minister. But Olmert's conduct will lead people to reach the opposite conclusion - that he is holding on to his post mostly to take advantage of his status to better defend himself against the claims of the investigation.