The Sin of Arrogance

Israel is supposed to be celebrating its 60th anniversary this week - not its corruption.

Ehud Olmert is suspected - as usual, one might add - of criminal offenses. The allegations need to be proven, but this adds insult to injury, even before it has become clear whether he is guilty of the "injury" of previous allegations. There is no need to wait for an investigation, prosecution and trial to end to know that Olmert is guilty of the sin of arrogance.

As he evaded the law-enforcement authorities in previous cases - here an exoneration accompanied by harsh words, there the closure of a case due to a lack of sufficient evidence - Olmert seemed enveloped in a feeling of immunity. Someone else in his place would have suppressed a sigh of relief, curled up in his corner and become cautious about everything. But not Olmert, who, in his haughtiness, continued to get into trouble. This characteristic, no less than the severity of the allegations, requires his immediate removal from the prime minister's post.

"They always come back," a senior police official predicted upon the closure of the Yanush Ben Gal-Russian gas case against Ariel Sharon, Olmert's bitter rival and predecessor. And sure enough, Sharon returned, and how - in the cases involving David Appel and Cyril Kern. So too Olmert. One of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's first decisions, in April 2004, was to close the Greek-island-affair case against Olmert. Mazuz was convinced that the activities of bureau head Shula Zaken and another assistant were carried out without Olmert's knowledge and not on his orders. "It is not possible to prove the suspicion that Olmert, who stands at the top of the pyramid and is helped by various assistants, knew about everything going on under him in his bureau," Mazuz wrote at the time.

Olmert has not changed since then. On the contrary, he has become even more Olmertian. Mazuz is the one who has changed - he has become less Mazuzian.

Over the last 30 years, sensitive, forgiving and considerate people have been appointed attorney general, and they have searched in vain for the smoking gun - even when the murderer used a rope. They were largely meant to overcome the obstinacy of the state prosecutors working under them; after all, the prosecutors, like the comptroller, are affiliated with the state, while the attorneys general are affiliated with the government.

But as the years wear on, toward the end of their terms, something strange happens to attorneys general against their will. As they become more aware of the corrupt reality, they become drawn to the prosecution's tough approach. That's what happened to Yitzhak Zamir in the Bus 300 affair and to Elyakim Rubinstein in the last few weeks of his term, when - according to his spokesman, Yanki Galanti, who is now Olmert's spokesman - he decided to indict Appel for bribing Sharon, though Rubinstein didn't get a chance to actually file the charges. And that's what's happening with Mazuz now.

It's not just theory anymore. The suspect is known to police and well known to the attorney general, who is aware of his activities day in and day out. Mazuz lost his virginity in the Greek island affair. Today, one can presume he would not doubt the possibility that Olmert, "who stands at the top of the pyramid," is knowledgeable about everything that goes on beneath him, whether it involves Shula Zaken or not.

Now that the law-enforcement establishment has belatedly finished exhausting all the alternative possibilities, it has been working well for about a month. It has been assisted by a little luck and coincidence, and mainly by outside help from anonymous heroes in the war on corruption - including those in the state comptroller's office, where the case began to be unraveled, and in another government ministry.

When the curtain is lifted, it will become clear that the Israeli media has not been doing too well in the past two years, when Olmert's supporters have controlled or played a prominent role in every important media outlet. But it will also be clear that this is the media's finest hour, because without the spotlight directed by Gidi Weitz of Haaretz and Mordechai Gilat of Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today), the investigators would still be fumbling in the dark.

This period, between Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day, are the High Holy Days of Israeli democracy, which must absorb the significance of the allegations even before they are publicized in full. That is the test of Mazuz, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and police officials Yohanan Danino and Yoav Segalovitch, but the political establishment must not hide behind their backs. It must force Olmert to give up his seat so as not to humiliate the country during the Independence Day events and the hosting of U.S. President George W. Bush, who makes a big deal out of harshly punishing Americans who bribe foreign government officials.

This is a rare moment for governments and legislatures - like the moment when the British government changed hands from Neville Chamberlain to Winston Churchill or when Levi Eshkol handed over Israel's defense portfolio to Moshe Dayan - which requires broad-based support for removing Olmert as prime minister. Israel is supposed to be celebrating its 60th anniversary this week - not its corruption.