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Two Faces

By       Message Uri Avnery     Permalink
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His ideology was summed up by his most famous dictum, alluding to the old adage that the Arabs want to throw the Jews into the sea: "The Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea." Another famous statement: "It is permissible to lie for the fatherland." Remarkably, this man, who joined the Irgun (like me) in protest against "self-restraint," exercised self-restraint par excellence when Saddam Hussein rained missiles on Israel during the Gulf War. Shamir was content to let the Americans do the job.

His other great achievement was preventing Jews from reaching the US. When the Soviet leadership allowed Jews to emigrate, almost all of them proceeded straight to the US. Shamir persuaded the White House to shut the gates, and thus compelled more than a million Russian Jews to come to Israel (where they now swell the ranks of the extreme right.)

For a short time he was the mentor of the young Binyamin Netanyahu, but then he came to detest him. After Netanyahu made a small tactical concession to the Arabs, he called him "Angel of Destruction." One may assume that he was also disgusted by Netanyahu's penchant for luxury. When not lying for the fatherland, Shamir was straight as a ramrod, living in utmost modesty. There never was -- or could be -- even the slightest hint of corruption.

Which leads us straight to Ehud Olmert. ONCE upon a time there was a Minister of Education, Zalman Aran, who was known for his dry humor. A party functionary once came up to him and said: "Ziama, you can congratulate me. I have been acquitted!" "Strange," Aran replied, "I have never been acquitted!" Olmert has been acquitted many times. During his entire career, he has danced from one acquittal to the next.

This week it happened again. After a long trial, in which he was accused on five different counts of corruption, he was acquitted of four. One concerned his habit of letting himself be invited by several charity organizations to lecture in the US, and letting all of them pay separately for the same first class ticket (using the surplus for his family's private outings.) Another count: reporting to the State Comptroller that his collection of expensive pens was worth a tenth of its real value. The district court decided to acquit him on all counts for lack of proof, except one: that as Minister of Industry he had favored the clients of his close friend, who obliged him by keeping a large amount of cash stashed away in his safe.

Olmert celebrated his partial acquittal as a great victory. The media -- the same media which celebrated his indictment when it all started -- are taking part in the celebration. He is still awaiting the outcome of an even bigger trial. The accusation, this time: taking bribes for the building of a huge multi-billion architectural monster in the center of Jerusalem when he was mayor of the city. Everybody expects that he will be acquitted, as usual. Among the outcries against the Attorney General in the media was the accusation that he, a mere civil servant, had toppled an incumbent Prime Minister on trumped-up charges. Worse, that he had done so just when Olmert was about to make peace with the Palestinians.

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Nonsense. In his years in the Prime Minister's office, during which he initiated two dirty wars (Lebanon War II and Operation "Cast Lead"), he had plenty of time to make peace. He did indeed produce a peace plan -- but only on the eve of his expected political demise. With peacemakers like this, who needs warmongers? However, Olmert is already hinting that after his next acquittal he will return to political life.

SHAMIR, the dead honest fanatic, has many followers. Olmert, the living corrupt pragmatist, has very few. Netanyahu, their current successor, has the vices of both and the virtues of neither.

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