For a Penny, for a Shekel

No one needs yet another puppy - sorry, investigation - to figure out that Olmert is unworthy of being PM.

The Governor: "As regards the internal administration and what Andrey Ivanovich in his letter calls 'little peccadilloes,' I have nothing to say. Why, of course, there isn't a man living who hasn't some sins to answer for ...

The Judge: "What do you mean by sins? Anton Antonovich? There are sins and sins. I tell everyone plainly that I take bribes. I make no bones about it. But what kind of bribes? White greyhound puppies. That's quite a different matter."

"The Inspector-General," by Nikolai Gogol

The people of Israel are on tenterhooks. The press is gleeful and the political arena is frothing. Friends of people in power who live with their lips clamped tight to the government teat are sweating blood. Will the police actually prove this time that the prime minister accepted envelopes of cash? Will the law-'n-order authorities show that Ehud Olmert is a crook?

How pathetic, how pointless, this tense wait for the gag order stuck onto this latest affair involving the prime minister - is it the fourth? the fifth? - to be lifted. The thing is, nobody needed yet another suspicion of criminality or of receipt of unkosher cash to know that Ehud Olmert is not worthy to be prime minister.

The greatest achievement Olmert and his predecessor can claim as prime ministers was achieved through their lawyers and "pet" journalists: Namely, they managed to reduce the test of worthiness to fill a public position, worthiness to control the state's money and to send soldiers to their deaths, to one element: the test of criminality.

Never mind how ugly your conduct, how many question marks hover over your decisions and contacts, your ethics, whether you are decent or normative. Only one thing counts: whether Weinroth, Zohar, Libai (please forgive us, all you other dozens of lawyers who specialize in this sort of thing, we aren't your PR agency) can make the case go away, before (or after) charges are pressed.

Each and every one of the cases involving Olmert involves public conduct that is twisted at best, and ugly and dubious at worst. He arrogantly tramples, with palpable glee, every norm to which public officials should aspire. He cares nothing for appearances and is unmoved by the stench.

Why wait to see if the story of Talansky-Messer and the cash ends in an indictment? Isn't the indictment served two weeks ago against the finance minister whom Olmert himself appointed enough?

Maybe you forgot? After six years under Ariel Sharon and two under Olmert it's no wonder that a finance minister who stands accused of stealing NIS 2 million in cash from educational and day-care institutions isn't banner-headline news.

Why did Olmert appoint Avraham Hirchson to the Finance Ministry? He didn't need the indictment to know that Hirchson was the last person who should be given the keys to the treasury. And Olmert's insistence on naming this petty party hack as minister cost us more than money. That's how we got Amir Peretz as defense minister during the Second Lebanon War: Because Olmert had to give the treasury to his buddy, the defense portfolio was all that was left for Peretz.

When Hirchson's appointment was announced, we wrote that the only economic ideology he and Olmert shared was some sort of mutual back-scratching, and that his nomination was a rerun of the rotten days of Sharon & Sons. Yet Olmert shrugged and the appointment went ahead.

Why? Olmert must have had good reason. How do we know that? Simple: A few weeks ago he named the same Hirchson to the municipal committee of Kadima. Yes, even though the suspicions against Hirchson have crystallized into a draft indictment.

We know the local authorities all too well. It's a gigantic pork barrel of jobs and perks for political allies and cronies. It's the richest hub of corruption in the land and it's only natural that Ehud will make sure that Avraham (who's meanwhile getting ready to explain in court why he took NIS 750,000 worth of cash in envelopes for 50 foreign trips during his stint as chair of the National Workers Union) will help choose Kadima's candidates in municipal elections.

By the way, Olmert has a virtual "dream team" on this municipal committee - Jacob Edery. Tzachi Hanegbi, Ruhama Avraham, Eli Aflalo and Haim Ramon, all suspected or convicted of criminal activities, some minor, some grave. Nothing special, to be sure, not actual graft, at worst... greyhound puppies. And as Gogol's governor says, all men sin. If you don't take bribes, you apparently don't do much at all.

Any other people would sickened of the stench and would have thrown Olmert out on his ear long ago, but here the press just publishes the latest spin from the Prime Minister's Office and applauds his ability to withstand pressure, and look how much progress he's making with Palestinian President Abbas! So let's not get all weird about whether he has a weakness for envelopes stuffed with cash as well as fancy apartments sold to billionaires.

Once I wrote that politicians here don't stoop to grabbing envelopes with money like they do in Italy, South America or some parts of Germany. Israel is so small that "cast thy bread" works better than bribes, I explained. I'll arrange your permit today, you give my useless nephew a job (or give me one, when I retire), and go prove it's illegal. I guess I was wrong. If Hirchson is found guilty and Olmert can't explain the cash Talansky gave him, then we'll know that Israel's politicians don't have the patience to wait for the big payoff. They want the money, the cigars, the foreign travel and the apartments here and now - before the public vomits them out. And, if you please, give them cash.

Download the draft indictment against Hirchson from the Internet. You won't believe how simple his alleged method of theft was: checks were cashed and he got NIS 25,000 a month cash delivered to his home, by courier, in refunds, plus $2,000 to $3,000 in cash before each of his 50 trips abroad. And now our prime minister is suspected of preferring contributions in cash. And what are the headlines? "Livni: Olmert must resign" (over the Second Lebanon War, mind you). And the Kadima people are spitting mad with her for not backing the prime minister. Get it? The problem is Livni! That naughty minister is sticking knives into Olmert's back, instead of appreciating envelopes of cash.