In Suspense

Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson yesterday joined President Moshe Katzav in suspension.

Hirchson, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are the heart of the government, and yesterday he announced he was suspending himself for three months whil ethe police pursue suspicions against him. God forbid he simply resign.

We have written extensively about the farce of the president continuing to receive his salary and all honors due him while he is busy sitting at home waiting for a decision on the charges against him. As to the farce of the finance minister in a similar situation, twice as much should be written. The presidency is a symbolic post. The treasury is the heart of government. 

How can a finance minister be "temporarily suspended?" He can't be, at least not if he and those around him take the economy seriously.

The post requires constant management presence. Decisions must be made, problems must be solves, and reforms must be considered. Never even mind the crises that crop up even when the treasury team is working at its best.

The treasury at present is short on personnel, experience and motivation, and it needs a full-time finance minister more than ever before. It is irresponsible to turn the finance minister into a zombie: he should have resigned and be done with it. It is immoral to leave the Israeli economy twisting in the wind without leadership just because Hirchson's personal legal interests are compelling him to hold on.

Jacky Matza, the former tax commissioner accused of criminal acts, resigned just weeks after the investigation into him was exposed. Matza could have suspended himself, but he understood that if he didn't quit, no replacement could be named; and the Tax Authority, as well as the entire country, would suffer.

Matza, however, is only an appointed government official. The deep sense of responsibility such officials have shown does not seem to be the same that our elected officials think applies to them.

The headlines over the weekend said that for the first time since the 1980s, more Israelis left than new immigrants arrived. You now find that Jewish mothers no longer want their sons to be doctors or lawyers, but to be accepted to prestigious universities overseas in order to find a way to start life outside Israel. These same families are the old, non-religious elite, the ones who pay their taxes and send their sons to elite combat units. It is not that their values have changed; they have just become more realistic. They have seen where our leadership is taking us, or more correctly, where ho lack of leadership is dragging us down.

A leader is someone who takes responsibility for his actions. Yitzhak Rabin did so in 1977 over his and his wife's bank account, and 15 years later he was again elected as an undisputed leader. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was investigated this year over far more serious charges, and all the while, the second Lebanon War is waiting in the wings for him, but none of this has caused him to take responsibility or reach any personal conclusions.

Today at the helm there is a de jure suspended finance minister and a de facto suspended prime minister paralyzed under a wave of criminal investigations and criticism. Is it any surprise that citizens are losing faith in the country's future?