Not the First, and Not the Last

Investigation into Olmert's activity could act as warning to other politicians.

It will be many long months - if not years - before the suspicions against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Investment Center affair reach their final conclusion. But this does not prevent other politicians from taking notice and determining where he went wrong, or from learning a few lessons for themselves.

The allegations against Olmert are that when he was minister of trade and industry, he acted to advance the interests of a client of one of his former partners and best friends, attorney Uri Messer. Messer represented an investor who had applied for Approved Enterprise status with the ministry's Investment Center. Such status would have provided benefits worth tens of millions of shekels in public funds.

The professional staff of the ministry had reservations about awarding the grants and recommended that the Investment Center turn down the request. After the investor hired Messer's services, Olmert and his staff started to act to have the benefits approved. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who examined the affair, thinks Olmert intervened in spite of a conflict of interest, and that his involvement raises suspicions of ethical violations.

Olmert is not the first politician - and he certainly won't be the last - who has tried to speed up and promote matters, and take a few shortcuts. But he certainly has become the symbol of the politician with his hand in everything, someone who specializes in such matters. He has bragged many times that he does not pay attention to the demands of professional staff.

The lesson for a young politico who wants to be an Olmert some day is: whoever ignores the professionals will sooner or later have to face the police investigators.

It starts with a phone call along the lines of "Help me out with something," and ends in the police interrogation rooms. It starts with an urge to play God and being power-drunk, and with a wish to do things with the wave of your hand - and it ends in serious state comptroller reports. Very few politicians can control their instincts and not be tempted to say something to the official controlling the flow of funds, or to do a favor for friends and cronies.

One of the greatest pleasures in political life is the feeling of power. The ability to say something and provide someone with a favor worth quite a lot of money certainly indebts the beneficiary to the politician. This happens in every place where there is a lot of public money: the Investment Center, public tenders, the Israel Lands Administration and at many other locations.

Olmert is one of the biggest experts in such wheeling dealing. Nobody is better than him at helping out friends. It is no surprise that many of these "friends" supported him in the race for prime minister. They supported him because their good friend Ehud knew how to lend a helping hand and say a kind word when needed to help them out. It was not ideology, nor philosophy and worldview, and certainly not faith in Olmert's just policies that led them to support him. Only the firm belief that Olmert is a friend who never turns his back when someone needs help produced such fervent support.

In the end all such things surface and blow up. The problem is that they explode only once the politician has reached the top of the pyramid, when he is already prime minister - and then most of his time and effort goes to saving his own skin, investigations and building a defense.

Maybe Olmert will somehow survive this time, just like he knew how to weather his other affairs so far. The real question is why we deserve a prime minister who has to devote so much of his time to investigations, reports and personal complications.