Ombudsman Politics

The expansion of the State Comptroller's probe has no basis in the evidence. Instead, it was borne of political considerations.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who sows fear into the hearts of public officials, is himself subject to the terror that can be imposed on him by two sources - the law and the legislator. The comptroller's jurisdiction is codified by law, and his decisions can be petitioned to the High Court of Justice. The Knesset chooses the comptroller and monitors his activities via the State Control Committee, which is chaired by an opposition MK.

This is a necessary, welcome arrangement, because the comptroller can't be subordinate to himself. In recent years, his prestige has only grown, and he is entitled to view his post as something of an emerging fourth branch of government. After all, the ombudsman's office doesn't conduct inquisitions. The problem is that behind such lofty terms as "lawmakers" stand national politicians who seek to protect themselves and their parties' leaders.

Against this backdrop emerges the issue of outside funding for trips by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara. The facts on this matter - which do not seem to be in dispute since they were culled from Netanyahu's own documents - arouse suspicions of serial violations of laws imposed on ministers that prohibit conflicts of interest.

The comptroller was asked to conduct an initial inquiry to determine whether the matter is within his jurisdiction, and to decide with the attorney general (the top legal official responsible for overseeing criminal investigations ) if the case falls within their purview. They also must determine whether they need to request additional powers to subpoena witnesses and gather evidence from individuals and agencies that are normally not required to cooperate with the state ombudsman.

At this point, the political meddling in the comptroller's work has reached its peak. In an effort to ward off the blow of a probe, Netanyahu is working to expand the inquiry to include officials who have not been the subject of a complaint, and MKs who are normally subject to oversight by the Knesset Ethics Committee. This is an illegitimate move, which justifiably was condemned by Lindenstrauss' predecessor, Eliezer Goldberg.

The comptroller is eager to show that he is not operating according to a double standard, and that Netanyahu is not the victim of discrimination. But the comptroller's capitulation to pressure and the expansion of his probe, which now includes the travel habits of dozens of ministers and deputy ministers, is no less dangerous than reducing the inquiry's scope. The expansion of the probe has no basis in the evidence. Instead, it was borne of political considerations.