Suddenly Tzachi

A minister who tailors tenders and appoints associates for his personal needs is like a pickpocket who shoves his hand into our pockets, financing his pals at our expense.

Suddenly, Tzachi Hanegbi is drawing himself up to his full height and overshadowing even Eli Aflalo. In a place where there are no men, he is the man, he is the candidate's chief of staff. What can we say? Compared with Daniel Friedmann and Haim Ramon, whose wisdom has gone into hiding and who are haunted by evil spirits, Hanegbi constitutes an example of sanity.

What would we have done without him? Without his intervention, there would have been no compromise worked out between the two Ehuds, or between Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, and Olmert's ouster would not have become a fait accompli. And until he gets into the thick of things, no government will be formed here. But he has already become involved: Tzachi is to Tzipi as Levi Eshkol was to David Ben-Gurion, and their Diadochi, headed by Ehud Barak, are expressing confidence only in Tzachi.

Hanegbi has been reincarnated: Who remembers, and who needs to mention, the man of the iron chains, the cages floating between heaven and earth and the severed microphones, in Jerusalem's olden days? He has come a long way from the Derekh Tzlacha scandal to the present.

But a mishap befell him along the way: As environment minister, he made 80 political appointments. And not only did he go overboard with his appointments, he even boasted about them. He was put on trial.

The trial has been going on for six years. There have been 80 sessions, and hundreds of witnesses have appeared. The accused himself has testified eight times, eight hours each time, "and I will testify another 10 times," he estimates. "Even in 2009, the trial won't end." This is one of the longest trials in history. The Scopes Monkey Trial was much shorter.

In an interview with Yossi Verter, he stated: "With all due respect to the offense of political appointments, there is no aspect of moral turpitude or ethical purity here in the sense that drove Livni to clash with Olmert." Hanegbi knows that for some reason, the public has a forgiving attitude toward this offense and considers it only soft-core corruption.

Prof. Yitzhak Zamir, former Supreme Court justice and attorney general, in contrast, considers it hard-core corruption, as he explained in an article he published recently in a booklet issued by the Israel Defense Forces' National Security College, which is dedicated to "Governmental Corruption in Israel." He based his article on specific and longstanding Supreme Court rulings, as well as on rulings by state comptrollers and attorneys general.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection is a small ministry with few people, virtually all of them professionals. Thus 80 people who were appointed because of connections rather than ability constitute about one third of the employees.

A minister who tailors tenders and appoints associates for his personal needs is like a pickpocket who shoves his hand into our pockets, financing his pals at our expense: After all, either their abilities are not commensurate with their jobs, or they have no jobs at all, or they clock in but do not show up to work, present-absentees. And all that has no connection, in Hanegbi's opinion, to moral turpitude or ethics. So what does have such a connection?

Had it not been for that hitch, Hanegbi might actually have been the one to succeed Olmert, who succeeded Sharon. He is their natural successor in a certain sense, and that sense is understood. If Tzachi Hanegbi is today the "responsible adult," if he is the one who represents the importance of seriousness, it is only because the situation is truly grave - but not really serious.