Analysis: Olmert may be a lawyer, but he can't behave like one

As prime minister, Olmert must above all communicate to the nation that he believes in the fundamental fairness of the governing institutions.

By DAN IZENBERG
May 15, 2007 23:26
2 minute read.
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The letter sent by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's lawyers Eli Zohar and Ro'i Blecher to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz on Monday was in some ways less dramatic than portrayed in the exclusive report broadcast later that evening by Channel 2 news. It is true that the lawyers called on Mazuz to launch a criminal investigation against State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss for alleged misconduct in the investigation of the prime minister's purchase of a home on Cremieux St. in Jerusalem's German Colony. But their 58-page letter is overwhelmingly a legal brief that responds to the allegations against Olmert in Lindenstrauss's April 29 letter to Mazuz. In that letter, Lindenstrauss said he had taken his probe as far as he could, and recommended that Mazuz consider ordering a criminal investigation into the affair. Nevertheless, despite the weightiness of the lawyers' letter, the fact remains that the prime minister of Israel called on the attorney-general to launch a criminal investigation against the head of one of the most important institutions in the country. There is much to be said about the way Lindenstrauss has conducted himself in office. He has many supporters who believe that, unlike his predecessors, and, perhaps, also unlike those responsible for criminal law enforcement in the country, he is the only one who is serious about fighting corruption. The fact that he speaks out, uses the media and tackles issues in real time, are essential parts of his arsenal, they say. Others believe that at best, Lindenstrauss is playing a dangerous game. By lowering himself to the level of the "common man," he has sacrificed not only the dignity of his office, but also his credibility has an objective and detached law enforcer. They dislike and suspect his public prominence and question his tactics, particularly his relationship with the media. There is no question that Lindenstrauss is walking along the outer limits of the prerogatives granted him by law. According to the Basic Law: The State Comptroller, he may investigate the "legality of actions, the honesty, proper administration, efficiency and thriftiness of the institutions under his examination and any other matter that he sees a need for." On the other hand, Lindenstrauss is not a criminal investigator. His mandate allows him to examine administrative improprieties only. Lindenstrauss often seems to move between the two spheres, and this has been particularly true in his examinations of Olmert's various activities. Nevertheless, Olmert is not a private citizen involved in a personal legal dispute with Lindenstrauss. Both he and the comptroller are key figures in Israel's democratic system and represent much more than themselves. Olmert is himself a shrewd lawyer who knows all the tricks of the trade. As prime minister, he cannot allow himself to act like one. As prime minister, he must above all communicate to the nation that he believes in the fundamental fairness of the governing institutions. If he has been wronged by Lindenstrauss, he should be the first to let the public know that other institutions that guard the balance of power of the Israeli democracy will discover the wrong and right it.

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