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Knesset members from across the political spectrum continued to attack Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday for allegations raised Tuesday night that he received a $3 million bribe, but Likud MKs were conspicuously silent.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu personally instructed Likud MKs to comment neither on the scandal nor on Sharon's health. He ordered them to speak "only about the health of the nation and not the health of the prime minister."
The decision, made on the advice of Netanyahu's new political strategist Ethan Dor Shav, is expected to be upheld even after Sharon was rushed late Wednesday to the hospital after suffering a serious stroke.
Regarding the bribe allegations, Dor Shav advised Netanyahu that the best way to keep the story alive would be to keep it a matter for police and not politicians.
"The seriousness of the story necessitates that it be dealt with in legal and police channels and the last thing that should happen is for it to become another political punching bag that belittles and takes away from the real issue," Dor Shav told The Jerusalem Post. "If there is real substance, then it's a matter for Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, not the spin doctors."
When the Cyril Kern affair broke out ahead of the 2003 election, Labor's candidate, Amram Mitzna, tried to take advantage of it with a negative campaign comparing Sharon to the godfather. That campaign resulted in Sharon gaining sympathy points from the public, and the Likud is not going to repeat Labor's mistake.
Netanyahu's spokesman would not rule out criticizing Sharon's corruption later in the campaign. He said he expected political cleanliness to be a major issue in the race.
Sharon strategist Lior Chorev said he believed the real reason the Likud decided not to attack Sharon for the bribery story was that Netanyahu has also been investigated and several top Likud officials are still under investigation.
"People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and people with butter on their heads shouldn't walk outside in the sunshine," Chorev said.
Chorev expressed optimism that the public focus on the corruption scandal would end on Thursday when Sharon will be hospitalized. "People will go back to talking about what is really important," Chorev said.
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