Olmert's Rotten Kingdom

The whole Olmert gang is completely innocent at this time, but Israel's democratic system of government, which enabled this gang to rule us, is far from innocent.

Ehud Olmert is innocent. Uri Lupolianski is innocent. So are Dan Dankner, Yaakov Efrati and Avigdor Kelner. There is no doubt that Shula Zaken is innocent. The former prime minister, bureau chief, Jerusalem mayor, Bank Hapoalim chairman, Israel Lands Administration director and chairman of the Channel 2 television franchisee Reshet are all innocent. The whole Olmert gang is completely innocent at this time. But Israel's democratic system of government, which enabled this gang to rule us, is far from innocent.

Weeks, perhaps months, will pass before we know whether the Holyland case will lead to indictments. Years will pass until we know whether anyone will be convicted. Was there a vast network of bribes given and taken among Israel's leadership? This difficult question will accompany us for a long time, unanswered. But three facts are known to all and beyond doubt even now.

Fact 1: A fortress of greed was built over the last decade in one of the most beautiful spots in Jerusalem. Was it also a fortress of crime? That is not yet known. But every Jerusalemite who did not receive building rights or scoops from Olmert has known for years that a heavy stench envelops the monstrosity on the mount.

Nobody could prove that its construction involved criminal corruption, but everyone knew that its construction involved public corruption. It was clear that whoever enabled the Holyland horror maimed Jerusalem, sabotaged the public interest with which he was entrusted and deliberately betrayed his responsibility as a civil servant.

Fact 2: The Israel Lands Administration gave the Dankner family grossly excessive building rights on Salt Industries' lands in Eilat and Atlit. The Dankner family made a fortune not by its initiative and resourcefulness, but because it received public property rights in a dubious way.

Some time later, Dan Dankner used his new-found fortune to acquire part of the controlling interest i n Israel's most powerful bank. A while later, he became this bank's chairman. Using a fortune acquired in a questionable manner, a controversial man became the state's leading banker.

Fact 3: It was all open and known. The writing was on the mountain. Nobody knew if money had passed from hand to hand. Nobody knew if there were envelopes and what was in them. But every reasonable onlooker knew something was rotten in Olmert's kingdom. Every reasonable onlooker knew Dankner was not a man suitable to head a bank.

And yet, Olmert became prime minister. And Dankner became the economy's master. The system that was supposed to weed out people like Olmert and Dankner didn't work. A supposedly civilized, properly-run country allowed the Olmert gang to take control of it.

Olmert and Dankner's rise to the top was not accidental. Both Olmert and Dankner were darlings of the highly concentrated economic regime that rules Israel today. Both were charming men, who knew how to bestow favors on friends and intimidate rivals. Both were masters at building a network with one end in the heavens and the other in the gutter.

But precisely because of that, the fact that Olmert and Dankner ruled the state and the economy for several years is bloodcurdling. Even assuming the two are innocent, they were patently unsuitable and unworthy. The democracy that enabled them to get that far is a sick democracy.

A grand drama is playing out these days in police interrogation rooms. If the men in blue crack the network, the earth will tremble. If they manage to substantiate the charges, Watergate will pale by comparison to the many-tentacled Holyland affair.

But if the network cracks the men in blue, then the State Prosecutor's Office and the police will be the ones in danger. If the allegations of criminal wrongdoing are refuted, the attack on the rule of law will be unprecedented. And Israel, irrevocably and terminally, will become an Olmert state.