Editor's Notes: Look into your heart

It is not your future that is at issue here, Mr. Olmert. It is ours.

david horovitz 224.88 (photo credit: )
david horovitz 224.88
(photo credit: )
We do not yet know, Mr. Olmert, whether the concerns and accusations over which you and some of your associates are being questioned in these turbulent days sink to the level of criminality. We do not yet know whether they constitute offenses for which you should be stripped of office and prosecuted. We do not know whether the high drama of these interrogations-under-caution and these court-ordered reporting gags will give way to damning public testimony and the end of your lengthy and stellar career in public office. Perhaps this mountain of speculation will deflate to a minor infraction, or prove to have been founded upon a terrible misunderstanding, or turn out to be malicious falsehood that can be cleared away by an entirely innocent explanation. We do not know. But you do, Mr. Olmert. That the case has exploded - with its details forcibly constrained by the courts - precisely in the days when Israel marks, first, the terrible loss of the 22,437 of our people who fell in its defense, and then the celebration of our 60 years of independence, only underlines the dizzyingly high stakes in this corruption investigation. Not so much for you, Mr. Olmert, as for us, your constituents. We Israelis have endured an awful lot of abuse by those in whom we chose to entrust responsibility for our leadership in recent years. A succession of political leaders have been unjustly plagued by police investigation and had their reputations sullied by accusations that turned out not to merit their convictions or even their indictments. But others have been proven guilty. Some have escaped in what have seemed to be highly troubling circumstances. And several more, most notably your own long-time ally and former finance minister, Avraham Hirchson, are currently fighting particularly grave allegations. In their defenses, some of these public figures have stooped lower than could have been conceived, invoking purported ethnic biases and claiming to have been the victims of police, judicial and media prejudice and corruption. The most notable and despicable example, of course, is that of our former president, Moshe Katsav. He had risen silkily to the very top of our partisan political hierarchy, and then attained the office whose prime function is to symbolize everything that is best about our society, our values and our aspirations. Whether he is ultimately cleared or convicted, he egregiously broke his contract with his people by flailing viciously at most every institution of Israel's democracy in an attempt to save his skin, potentially undermining his citizenry's trust in the instruments of rule he was charged as president with protecting and championing. But as you must recognize acutely, day in and day out in your terrifyingly responsible position, Mr. Olmert, the sight of the emblematic state president removing all dignity from that office as he assailed his accusers was a side-show. Your job is the centerpiece. The role of president in Israel is thoroughly marginal. Yours, for us, is everything. IN THE bitter aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, this newspaper has urged you to resign, concerned that your stewardship of that conflict displayed a combination of arrogance and inexpertise that rendered you inappropriate for the position. The point is not that Israel - engaged in a daily battle for its very existence, in a region where Iran is probing relentlessly for the means to annihilate us - requires a skilled military veteran to take ultimate responsibility for our defense. It is, rather, that a prime minister who does not have such personal experience and expertise, must possess the wisdom to recognize his or her limitations and lacunae, and sufficient humility and responsibility to ask the necessary questions and thus to make the informed decisions that best guarantee our national safety. The initial inquiry you had commissioned into the war drew essentially the same conclusions, though it held back from issuing an operative recommendation. And defying the political waters closing over your head, you chose to battle on. You asserted that you had nothing for which to atone, since the pervasive national sense of failure was misconceived. Hizbullah had been driven from the border. A robust international force was now deployed in south Lebanon. The rest of the region had internalized afresh Israel's capacity to defend itself. Simultaneously, however, you promised that all the necessary lessons were being learned, that the army was being healed, and that improved coordination was being instituted between the top political and military echelons, to ensure a better result next time. Nothing was broken, but everything was being fixed. It was a curious construct, indeed. But it helped achieve your survival. Now you are once more fighting for your political life. This time it is your propriety, rather than your competence, that is in question. But again, Mr. Olmert, it is not your future that is at issue here. It is ours. How our enemies must be laughing. FOR SO long as you retain your position, you are the leader who must ultimately decide whether to send the husbands, fathers and children of Israel into war. Whether to send tank crews and infantry units into Gaza. When or whether to again tackle Hizbullah's restocked arsenal of rockets and missiles. How to prevent Iran from obtaining the tools to achieve its declared aim of our destruction. It is you who oversee the intensive negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas's ebbing Palestinian Authority. You who attempt to secure from this Palestinian leader the viable terms for an accommodation that his predecessor so insistently withheld. You who must hold to positions that will enable Israel to defend itself. And it is you who tries to balance the possible opportunity to draw Syria away from Teheran's embrace against the price of an agreement with Damascus on the Golan Heights. Governing Israel is the most onerous of tasks. In this week, of all weeks, there can be no escape from the agonizing over whether lives have been lost in vain down the decades, whether alternate policies would have produced greater security. But our prime minister must shoulder the life-and-death burden of the choices he makes for the nation every single day. The task is far beyond the capabilities of most of us. It would stretch to the very limit even the most able and competent, confident and resilient. It requires the clearest of focuses, and the minimum of distractions. Being prime minister also requires the purest of motives - the single-minded dedication to the well-being of Israel. And for a prime minister to have any chance of succeeding, his people, whether they voted for him or not, must be certain of that honesty of purpose. His judgments must be unclouded, and immune to narrow, personal considerations. And they must be seen to be unclouded. Time and again in recent years, opponents of government policy have queried the motives of prime ministers, assailed the legitimacy of governing coalitions, argued that very different strategies were being followed from those on which leaders were voted into office. To the critics, Yitzhak Rabin had an illegitimate majority to pursue the Oslo process, Binyamin Netanyahu betrayed his voters in leaving most of Hebron and negotiating with Yasser Arafat, Ehud Barak offered more than he had ever indicated he would during his bid to secure a permanent accord with the Palestinians, and Ariel Sharon changed his political colors and pulled out of Gaza to keep the state prosecutors and the leftist media off his back. It is only to be expected that those who find themselves in an unfavorably affected minority as a consequence of government policy will try to undermine the legitimacy of that policy. But the consequence has been a deepening of rifts within Israeli society, and bitterness, frustration and rage on either side, with each convinced that the other is bent on placing Israel on the road to ruin. And now we face yet another episode in that unhealthy series - a prime minister under investigation, again, as he tries to reach an accord with the Palestinians, again, his motives and integrity under question, again. SO PLEASE, Mr. Olmert, look into your heart. You know best of all how you acted in the matters that are now being investigated. If your conduct was blameless, then you must refute the allegations against you, and must be enabled to do so quickly. The legal means must be found for an expedited process of investigation that does not subvert the democratic process that brought you to power. But if your conduct was wrong, spare us, please, an immensely more damaging rerun of the dismal, protracted Katsav precedent. Do not torture us and paralyze us and fritter away precious time by clinging on. Look into your heart, and act with honor. The Israel that you undoubtedly love deserves that, at the very least.