Tuesday, September 09, 2008

One At A Time

The front page of the daily Ha’aretz newspaper had two lead stories above the fold. One was the police recommendation for an indictment of PM Ehud Olmert for money laundering, with an accompanying picture of the Prime Minister. The other was about the attempted assassination of a Netanya underworld figure, with five photographs of five of his gang, including his son, and his late brother, gunned down outside the family’s Prague casino..

One observer commented that the criminals who gun down each other in public places, taking with them innocent bystanders should be the focus of the Israeli police department’s activities, not spending hundreds perhaps thousands of man hours seeking to imprison political figures.

Olmert backers say the police have been accused of seeking headlines rather than solving crimes. They say that the leaks of proceedings, including closed-door testimony, can only come from the police. In today’s age of trial by media, they say, the police are using the press as a tool to prejudice the public well in advance of due process of law.

Some analysts point to the on-going 10-year long criminal investigation into former minister Avigdor Lieberman.. Others point to the media frenzy that accompanied the accusations, indictment and trial of minister Haim Ramon for inappropriately kissing one of his secretaries.

It seems, wrote one pundit, that the police are more interested in the high profile cases because they deflect the police’s inability, or lack of desire, in pursuing gangsters who shoot each other in the streets as if they were in Al Capone’s Chicago.

Elected officials have a higher responsibility to the law, wrote one commentator, since their decisions influence not just a gang of criminals but a much broader public. The stink in Israeli politics, the commentator said, starts at the top and filters all the way down to the bottom of the ladder.

The media points out that the mafia bosses, the hit men, the gangsters, are the ones who are a threat to the normal lives of Israel’s citizens. One housewife thought the police in Netanya are probably on the take. She said it may be easier, and perhaps more profitable, for the Police, to go after politicians, than to tackle the hard nosed mafia of the Abirgils and Abutbuls. By keeping the headlines focused on the politicians the police can continue letting the mafia go on with business as usual.

Ahraon Zaliki, former Finance Ministry Accountant-General, sometimes called the “whistle-blower” for his role in bringing PM Olmert’s transgressions to light, told Israel Radio today that PM Olmert is a “Criminal” and had to be prosecuted.

According to Zalliki, Olmert is only one of many politicians who are corrupting the government, creating a situation that puts Israel as a nation at risk. Zalliki also cited former Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, indicted for fraud and embezzlement, former Knesset Member Omri Sharon, son of Ariel Sharon, who served nearly a year in jail for illegal campaign contributions.. Zalliki also mentioned other recently convicted officials, including former Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri, who served a three-year prison term for receiving a bribe, fraud and violation of trust.

Deri today announced that he is willing to run for Mayor of Jerusalem as an ultra-orthodox Shas Party candidate. According to the law Deri has to wait nine-years from his conviction to run for public office. The nine-years is up in a few months.

The race for mayor of Jerusalem is now between secular Nir Barakat, a hi-tech millionaire, and Meir Porush of the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism party. Recent polls have shown that Barakat would defeat Porush in the next election.

A poll published in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday showed that while Jerusalemites may consider the city is becoming increasingly ultra-orthodox, in fact the ultra-orthodox population has only grown by a few percentage points from 2000 and now stands at 32 per cent of the total population. Some neighborhoods, like Jerusalem northern Ramot and Ramat Eshkol quarters, are nearly 75 per cent ultra-orthodox.

Op-Ed writers had a field day with the Deri announcement. It was as if corruption and conviction, rather than being an impediment to a successful political campaign, were actually advantages, showing how experienced the candidate was in the Byzantine ways of Israeli politics.

Zelliki’s warnings become even more poignant in view of threats by Lebanon’s Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah group who warns they are now in possession of longer-range missiles, some with chemical weapons, that could hit anywhere in Israel,.The Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza has made similar threats. The Iranian hatemonger Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to threaten Israel with total annihilation.
at ever juncture

Knesset Member Rafi Eitan, of the Pensioner’s Party, who was the agent in charge of the kidnapping of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichman, and reportedly the agent who ran Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy intelligence analyst currently serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, suggests that Ahmadinejad should be kidnapped and put on trial in the Hague.

Pundits point out that with these existential threats to Israel, corrupt politicians, and police, should be rooted out, put on trial in order to keep some balance in the business of running the country.

A politician like Aryeh Deri, irregardless of his intelligence, political acumen, or charisma, should not be allowed to have a hand in the running of government on any level, according to one observer. The stakes are simply too high. The example to the public too jaded.

PM Olmert has yet to be formally indicted by Attorney-General Manny Mazuz, but his trial in the media is already over. His political career is finished. Still he goes on making public appearances, meeting with visiting heads of state, and talking about finalizing a peace agreement as if he is still in complete control of his party, and the country.

A recent report in the press quoted a leading Israeli general’s assessment that the army and the home front were horribly ill prepared for another war like the one Israel lost in Lebanon. There are also reports that PM Olmert is planning a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Some say Olmert plans this as a way to deflect attention from his foibles, and keep him in power due to an war brought on by the attack. One critic questioned if Olmert was so firmly committed to staying in power that he’d even start a war to do it. Another critic answered that Ariel Sharon was suspected of evacuating the Gaza settlements just to deflect media attention from the accusations of corruption and illegal campaign contributions.

But there is hope. This week Israel’s supreme court stopped one case of run-away corruption in government. A 500 dunham (about 100 acres) of the Jerusalem Forest had been approved for a housing development by the municipality without the proper committee hearings and approvals. The high court heard the case twice. Once asking why this piece of forest, laden with deer and horticulture, was not part of the Safdi plan, designed by famous architect Moshe Safdi, for the expansion of Jerusalem that the high court had already ruled was illegal.

The second trial, brought by a group of concerned residents, including the “deer in the forest” as plaintiffs, won the case in a final decision. The court found that the land had to stay agricultural, and as grazing land. The herd of fifty-odd deer in the forest could live freely for a while longer.

In discussions with the Residents Committee To Save The Ramot Forest, Jerusalem Magazine was told that the parties involved in asking the land be rezoned were the Jerusalem Municipality, and an unnamed building contractor. “Millions of shekels were spent drawing up plans and blueprints for a housing development that would replace the forest. We never found out who the builder was. The name is not mentioned.”

According to the source, that plan is now trashed, and it will take years for another developer to get permissions to build, if at all. This victory came because some concerned citizens stood up to the political machine, which in it’s “arrogance”, according to our sources, “thought they could just push it through with no objections.”

In this case, the rot of government was excised from the healthy body politic. Analysts believe that if more surgery isn’t performed, the State of Israel will suffer first a moral, then a physical collapse. Perhaps a concerned citizen, a group at a time, is the answer.