Comment / If Nasrallah Were Really Smart

Knesset member Avigdor Yitzhaki is suspected of massive tax evasion. Yitzhaki, an accountant by profession, is suspected of helping a couple of his friends to dodge NIS 3.5 million in tax by filing falsified tax returns.

Yitzhaki is not just another parliamentarian: He served in the past as director general of the Prime Minister's Office, at the start of Ariel Sharon's term in that office. He is also coalition whip and a senior Knesset member of the ruling party, Kadima.

Such grave suspicions against one of the highest-ranking parliamentarians in the ruling party would shake the foundations in any western democracy, but not in Israel. The only place that the suspicions against Yitzhaki garnered press attention was the business pages. The broader public hardly noticed.

One could say that the public's attention has been distracted by the war. Or one could suggest that the public barely noticed because grave suspicions about a Knesset member are becoming the rule, not the exception.

Let's do a quick count. Yitzhaki, the No. 1 man in Kadima, is suspected of grave tax fraud. Tzachi Hanegbi, the No. 2 Kadima personality and chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, faces charges over making political appointments at the Environment Ministry when he was the minister there.

Ruhama Avraham and Eli Aflalo, two ex-Likud members who joined Kadima, flew abroad at the expense of agricultural produce export company Agrexco. Accepting tickets and accommodations at a cost of thousands of dollars did not inspire them to recuse themselves from discussing issues related to Agrexco in the Knesset. The prosecution is still considering its position on that affair.

That is not the only dubious foreign jaunt in Kadima history. Ministers Shimon Peres and Haim Ramon, together with Dalia Itzik - today the Knesset speaker - flew abroad two years ago at the expense of millionaire Aharon Frankel, who paid for them to come to his wedding. The distinguished parliamentarians forgot that they are not allowed to accept presents, and were astonished when the Knesset Ethics Committee demanded that they repay Frankel. Justice Minister Ramon refuses to return the money to this day, but he agreed to donate the equivalent sum to charity.

Apropos Ramon, the minister is also under investigation for alleged sexual harassment. Peres is still under investigation by the state comptroller about possible illegal donations to his Labor leadership campaign (before he jumped to Kadima).

More? Let us not forget Kadima leader Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, whom the state comptroller has looked at countless times over his acquisition and sale of a house in Jerusalem while serving as the city's mayor. Claims have been made that the sellers received sweetheart terms from the city. There have also been complaints about his collection of fine pens, received as gifts over the years.

Altogether, eight Kadima members, including the prime minister, are suspects in ethical or criminal cases. That means that 27 percent of Israel's leading party may be rotten.

It is probably a world record, and it is especially grating given Kadima's pretensions when running for Knesset, which are included in the government's guidelines. The fifth "social" guideline - the one after (4) narrowing social gaps and before (6) respecting government institutions, first and foremost the Knesset and the Supreme Court - reads: "The government shall fix corruption and unethical conduct throughout all echelons of Israeli society, mainly in the governmental and public administration system."

With 27 percent of its members embroiled in suspected conflicts with the law, one has to wonder whether Kadima has the willpower to fulfill its promise.

And if it does not, one has to wonder about Hassan Nasrallah's reputation for wisdom. Instead of going to the bother of attacking Israel with long-range missiles, all he had to do was leave us to stew. Israel seems doomed to rot from the inside out. At least, that looks a lot more likely than Hezbollah winning the war.