Not a Man to Run Away

Ehud Olmert refuses to go. Resignation was imposed on him, but a parting announcement from the premiership sufficed.

In a farewell event for General (res.) Yossi Ben Hanan, who is leaving a Defense Ministry job to head its delegation in Paris, Ehud Barak was reminded of an observation often made near the end of the British Mandate and the first days of the state: "The British leave without taking leave; Israelis take leave and do not leave."

Ehud Olmert refuses to go. Resignation was imposed on him, but a parting announcement from the premiership sufficed. An announcement? A farewell world tour, with his typical show of arrogance masquerading as courage. He won't go voluntarily. Let the others go, all of them, and to hell with them. He is embittered by the attorney general's timing in serving him with an indictment, as he is legally obligated to do the moment the case is ready, so soon after his return from Washington.

On this subject, it is difficult to satisfy Rishon Tours' most preferred customer. The day before a trip abroad is no good, absolutely no good. The end of the trip is still no good (though it was just splendid that the police recommended closing the investigation into the Bank Leumi privatization the day after the Annapolis conference).

Thirty-five years ago tomorrow, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's prime minister for the first 15 years of its existence save for the two years during which Moshe Sharett served as premier, passed away. Olmert is slated to bow his head before Ben-Gurion's tombstone on Wednesday alongside his ministers and Shimon Peres, on whose behalf Olmert worked to have him elected president and from whom Olmert expects a pardon. It is not difficult to guess what Ben-Gurion would have thought of the man whom the attorney general decided to try for fraudulently accepting gratuities, breach of trust and a series of other crimes.

In practice, we are talking about theft - theft from the State of Israel, IDF soldiers (Friends of the IDF), those tasked with perpetuating the memory of the victims of the Holocaust (Yad Vashem, Simon Wiesenthal Center, the March of the Living). Everything, as we know, is pending a hearing. This, too, is consolation. What still separates the prime minister from the defendant's dock is a hearing, if Olmert wants to pick up the burden of proof - and persuade the attorney general to recant - and risk exposing his legal line of defense. It's obvious what Sharett would have written about it in his diary: "Horrifying."

Ben-Gurion and Sharett would not have been alone in their shock. How far has the state they established declined? What happened to statesmanlike behavior, not to mention commanding respect? Not that there was a huge surprise here. Yitzhak Shamir, who was helped by Olmert in advancing his interests, would often voice to his family circle his reservations about Olmert's avarice.

What do Shamir and Menachem Begin, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir - the names of others have not been left out unintentionally - have in common with such a successor as Olmert? The absurdity cries out to the heavens. Police Commissioner David Cohen and Minister Avi Dichter ordered Major General Uri Bar-Lev to take a forced vacation for 30 days - it is now 60 days and counting - solely because in August he said that he would refuse to begin his study leave in May. The thief can learn from the cop.

With the Kadima faction's support of Tzipi Livni's call to force Olmert to take leave, the premier has no majority in his government or his party. As a public servant who has lost the public who sent him to serve, he must not be allowed to remain in his post. Not another 10 weeks until elections, and not another 10 minutes. Not only does he lack even a modicum of moral authority to serve as a national symbol, but he is also suspected of using his subordinates to steal from the state, or in the words of the attorney general, "enlisting ministry employees in defrauding activities." Who is he to give the order whereby soldiers are sent to the field to risk their lives? His attachment to his chair is a one-man coup crying out for a countercoup.

Olmert is now trying to portray himself as someone without personal and political interests. He supposedly is above the election melee. In practice, he is riding Benjamin Netanyahu's wave, flattering and praising him for his "fairness" toward him. A pardon from Peres will not suffice. It will require approval from the justice minister in a Netanyahu government.

But for now the ruling entity is a Kadima-Labor government, and it is incumbent upon that government to revolt against Olmert. First, it must ignore him. If he summons the cabinet, the ministers should simply not show up. If he tries to give instructions, they should disobey. Treat him like a leper. Ostracize him till he folds, like Shmuel Rechtman, who resigned as an MK from prison; like Azmi Bishara; like husbands who refuse to grant their wives a divorce but ultimately free them from their tethers.

A man like Olmert will not run away - perhaps he sees himself as the hero from "High Noon"; in reality he got in trouble over an extra fistful of dollars, so urgent action is needed. The solution can be found in clause 16 of Basic Law on The Government, which states that whenever a prime minister is abroad, cabinet meetings are chaired by the acting premier. So, during one of his trips, the ministers can convene for a meeting headed by Livni and pass a decree ordering Olmert to remain in exile until a new government is formed.