An Entire Country Under Suspension

Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson yesterday joined President Moshe Katzav in his status of temporary suspension. Hirchson, along with 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 until criminal investigations against him clear up. Suspension, God forbid resignation.

We have written quite a lot 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 filing of indictments against him. As to the farce of the finance minister in a similar situation, twice as much should be written, since the presidency is only symbolic post, while the treasury is nearly the most important government post.

How can a finance minister be "temporarily suspended?" He cannot be, at least not if he and those around him take managing the economy seriously. The post requires a constant management presence: he has dozens of decisions to make, hundreds of problems to solve, and unlimited structural changes to be considered. And there always is a crisis or two even when the treasury team is working at its best.

Now, when the treasury's top management is lacking personnel, experience and motivation, a full-time finance minister is needed more than ever. It is irresponsible to turn the finance minister into a zombie when he decides to only suspend himself and not resign. It is immoral to leave the Israeli economy twisting in the wind without leadership just because Hirchson's personal legal interests are pushing him to hold on at any price.

Jacky Matza, the former Tax Authority head accused of criminal acts, announced his resignation only a few weeks after exposure of an investigation against him. Matza could have made due with a suspension, but he understood that if he did not resign, 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 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?