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It is a relief that the attorney-general quickly and unequivocally shot down Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's demand that a criminal investigation be launched against State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss for alleged abuse of power on his part.
It is likewise comforting to discover that reports of actual police investigations against the comptroller, or stirrings thereof inspired by Olmert's complaint, have been hotly denied.
The above mean that a modicum of common sense and fair play exists in our legal and law enforcement establishments. In itself this is nothing to scoff at. What should, however, constitute extreme cause for concern is the prime minister's assault on the legitimacy of a public servant authorized by the country's legislature to keep a watchful eye on the public sector's conduct.
In Israel's history there is very little to compare to the charges Olmert unleashed against Lindenstrauss. To be sure, there had been no negligible amount of grumbling and carping in the past, yet nothing of this magnitude.
In darkest behind-the-Iron-Curtain Eastern Europe, it was common to portray anti-corruption crusaders as criminals themselves. The sorry spectacle of someone under investigation - for four separate episodes, in Olmert's case - attempting to intimidate the investigator has no place in any properly functioning democracy. The fact that a scrutinized premier presumes to object to the legal exercise of authority sends highly disconcerting signals about the state of our system.
Lindenstrauss - singularly unrelenting and uncompromising - has proved a thorn in Olmert's flesh from the outset. Olmert's response was to cast aspersions and imply that Lindenstrauss pursues a private vendetta and that he is an incurable publicity hound.
This insults the public's intelligence. The comptroller does not win his office via a political campaign and he gets only one seven-year stint. Lindenstrauss, who will be 75 at his term's end, is hardly likely to be motivated by career calculations. Ethically, Olmert's accusations come precariously close to bullying by the nation's chief executive and an attempt to impede another official, appointed by the Knesset and answerable to it.
The very effort to enlist the attorney-general's collusion in itself constitutes a dangerous precedent. Even if we submit, for argument's sake, that there are cogent grounds for Olmert's displeasure with some of the leaks over the months from the probes against him, it is striking that Olmert shows no similar zealousness against leaks in general from investigations of public figures.
Such leaks, for which the police are well known, are indeed a serious problem in that they compromise the civil rights of the investigated and therefore the judicial system as a whole. But Olmert has shown no productive interest in taking measures to protect such rights - except, apparently, his own.
Olmert's counter-campaign against the comptroller costs him both credibility and legitimacy, and deepens suspicions that his aim in the final analysis is to divert the electorate's attention from the extremely serious investigations ongoing against him.
In taking exceptionally hostile potshots at the comptroller, Olmert cannot possibly further the cause of ferreting out the truth, the goal that should most interest him given his repeated insistence that he is blameless. An innocent public figure ought to perceive the truth as exculpatory. Olmert's proverbial attempt to kill the messenger imparts the impression that his actions are not based on this postulation.
All this goes beyond Olmert's immediate and personal predicament and does not auger well for the rule of law. Hitherto, when the comptroller took even the highest and mightiest severely to task, all the censured officials could do was respond directly to the specific points of criticism and then - if it reached that far - defend themselves in court.
Olmert, by contrast, is confronting the comptroller. It is fortunate, indeed, that this incendiary situation has been prudently defused by both the prosecution and the police.