Show Them the Door

'Stop the World: I Want to Get Off.' The name of that famous Sixties movie ran through my head as I read the newspaper headlines this week.

"Stop the World: I Want to Get Off." The name of that famous Sixties movie ran through my head as I read the newspaper headlines this week. "Disintegrating state," "Corruption at the top," "Sodom and Gemorrah," "Something is rotten in the Kingdom of Denmark," "Income tax in the clinker," "The fall," "Tax Authority as organized crime," "The party goes on," "The great deception." These were just some of the headlines describing the scandal that blackened the skies of Israel like a plague of locusts this week.

There is hardly an arm of the state, from the president and the government, to the police, the army and now the tax authorities, that is not under investigation. Any sense of security and well-being is crumbling as citizens lose their faith in government and community services.

Last week, the regional councils of 11 settlements around Gaza decided on an organized evacuation of 6,000 inhabitants if Qassam rocket attacks are stepped up. They have stopped believing that the army can halt the attacks, in the same way that most Israelis have stopped believing that the police can assure their personal safety in a country where organized crime has spread its wings.

The generals and the police officials are all at some stage or other of being interrogated or trying to restore their lost honor. The Tax Authority directors are being questioned by the fraud squad. As President Katsav awaits indictment on serious charges, he preaches to the nation on how a state should be run, which proves that cynicism has no limits. The prime minister himself is waiting for the attorney general to reach all sorts of decisions.

One of this week's episodes involved the arrest of big name businessmen and top-ranking tax officials, some of them in office since Olmert's days as finance minister, after Shula Zaken, Olmert's right-hand woman for the last 30 years, had her phone tapped.

What is happening in this country is like a domino game: One tile falls, and then another and another and another. The government is showing signs of weakness and collapse brought on by a series of ailments. The most obvious is the lack of leaders who are above all suspicion - the kind who don't have all sorts of skeletons in their closet.

Much has been said and written about the war in Lebanon, but the bottom line is so obvious that even a kid could tell you: We blew it.

After the Yom Kippur War, the chief of staff resigned. In the wake of public protest, the prime minister and the defense minister, who were partners to "the concept," i.e., the belief that the Egyptians wouldn't dare attack or cross the Suez Canal, were forced to step down, too.

Now, instead of resigning, all the people most responsible for this traumatic failure have found themselves a lifeline in the form of multiple investigation committees that have no clout. The chief of staff, who should have hung up his hat or had it hung up for him, has appointed something like 40 investigators to come up with "findings and recommendations" - not for the purpose of punishment but to fix what needs to be fixed.

Dan Halutz looked pretty down in the mouth when Ilana Dayan first quizzed him about a commission of inquiry. "I don't care. I really don't care," he told her in English, with the same tone that Rhett Butler delivered his last line in "Gone With the Wind." Since then, his self-confidence has returned.

The goal of these probes is to fix, he said this week, not to punish. He admits that the war harmed Israel's power of deterrence, but made it clear that he has no intention of resigning when the findings are in.

He justifies his refusal to quit on the grounds that the army was suffering from many years of neglect that weren't his fault. But that is all the more reason to ask why he chose to launch an open-ended campaign that caused irreversible physical damage and wrecked Israel's image.

How can a chief of staff admit responsibility for making a mess of the war and not resign? And even more bizarre, how does he get away with it? Why hasn't he been fired?

The answer to that, I think, is that Olmert is dependent on him. According to Israeli law, the government is the supreme commander of the armed forces. In this case, the government and its leader rubberstamped a war without knowing what its objectives were and without foreseeing what it might do to our inner strength.

But firing the chief of staff could drag the prime minister and the defense minister down with him, like after the Yom Kippur War, and they don't want that.

The public is losing its faith in the government. We are living in a state of chaos and lawlessness, without authority or direction. This is not the time for apathy but for mass protest that will show this failed government the door, even at the price of early elections.