Knesset chairman Avraham Burg has the heads of the Labor
Party scared. According to all of the forecasts, Avraham
Burg will win the primary elections scheduled to be held in
another four months, making him the party's candidate for
prime minister. This has all of the other candidates and
those who see themselves as potential candidates--Haim
Ramon, Shlomo Ben Ami and Binyamin Ben Eliezer--
understandably anxious, and keeps them awake at night.
Shimon Peres also has concerns of his own about Burg. He is
worried that Burg will work to dismantle the unity
government, which would put him back on the bench with the
bored opposition MKs, and he had enough of that during
Barak's government, regardless of his title then, Minister
of Regional Cooperation. The current situation is ideal from
Peres' perspective. Although he does not hold an official
title like Labor Party Chairman or Acting Labor Party
Chairman, in practice Peres is running the party. His word
goes. He is in the most senior government position of any
Labor Party member and shows it the way. So what does he
need Burg barging in for?
Thus Peres and his supporters have been trying to push
forward an initiative to postpone the primaries for another
12 to 18 months, as close as possible to the next prime
Haim Ramon and Shlomo Ami, who have not yet announced their
intentions of running for prime minister (and it does not
appear that they will do so in the near future, though they
are both known to harbor such ambitions), were only too
happy to join in on this initiative. Today they cannot
contend with Burg's popularity, and time is their most
important commodity. By the time another year or a year and
a half has gone by, Burg will have stepped aside to make
room for someone else, will have run out of steam or will
have made a few mistakes and their low popularity rating
will begin to climb.
Ben Ami and Ramon are the Labor Party's most promising
figures. The two have long been marked as prime minister
material, certainly more than Burg, but reality has slapped
them in the face. Ben Ami, who served as Defense Minister
during the incidents in the Arab sector carries the scars of
that post. He has also been stuck with the blame for the
policy failures that were set in motion at the Camp David
Haim Ramon is a whole different story. Ehud Barak is
primarily responsible for his disappearance from the
limelight. He pressed a minor portfolio on him, the Ministry
of Jerusalem Affairs, preventing him from participating in
important meetings and decision-making. Even after Israel
B'aliya's resignation, when Ramon was given the interior
portfolio, he didn't take advantage of the opportunity to
bring up his popularity rating. Ramon has now struck rock
bottom politically. From this point he can only go up, and
it is this ascent that Ramon is anticipating. He is waiting
for the right time to return to the center ring, primed and
at his peak. But in order for this to happen, he cannot
allow Burg to make off with the bone in the meantime.
Burg, of course, shows no concern for Ramon and Ben Ami's
problems. Just the opposite: he is enjoying every moment of
their anxiety over the prospect of running against him, and
plans to do everything in his power to ensure that the
primaries are not postponed. Burg and his supporters are
sparing no effort to secure the title of Labor Party
Chairman and candidate for prime minister, in addition to
his role as Knesset Chairman.
Where Have All the Mayors Gone?
A few weeks ago, before all of the court proceedings, former
interior minister Avigdor Kahalani, who was brought to trial
for allegedly providing illegal assistance to former
Ma'ariv editor, Ofer Nimrodi--currently standing
trial on serious criminal charges--was acquitted.
At the Jerusalem Magistrate Court another former minister is
also being held trial--none other than former Shas chairman,
Arye Deri, in what has come to be known as "the public
The case consists of five indictments for monetary
transactions in Be'er Sheva, Jerusalem, Rechasim, Zichron
Yaakov and Netanya. The State of Israel is accusing Deri of
exploiting his power and status during his service as
director general and interior minister in order to pressure
the mayors and local council heads of these cities and towns
to transfer funds to Torah institutions.
Two weeks ago Arye Deri took the witness stand for several
days of cross-examination by the prosecution. It was not
easy to think back 13, 14, 15 and even 16 years ago. Few
people can remember what took place two or three years ago,
and here he was asked to recreate scenes from 15 years back.
But that's the name of the game: memory.
For dozens of hours over the course of six days, Arye Deri
sat in the witness box and replied to cross-examination. On
the third day of questioning, it seemed as if the judges'
patience was waning. "Your questions are not focused," they
told the prosecuting attorney. "Your cross-examination is
not bringing us anywhere."
Later one of the judges prevented the prosecutor from
calling the defendant to the stand to testify, half of which
was testimony already given by someone else. "That won't get
by in my court," one of the judges fired at the
Based on the way the trial was run during those sessions, it
seems likely that this trial will conclude like the Kahalani
trial, and like the trials of Ne'eman, Rafael Eitan, Ehud
Olmert, Avi Yechezkel, Meir Shetreet and a long list of
other public figures and politicians who were brought to
trial by the State of Israel but were eventually
In those days, Deri revised the "slips of paper method,"
which was in practice before his arrival at the ministry.
This method is well-remembered all the way back to the days
of Ben Gurion and Pinchas Sapir, who used slips of paper for
everything. Based on what was written down on those notes
public funds were allocated and no one was charged with any
offenses or brought to trial.
Deri stopped the use of stray slips of paper and began
recording allocations in an orderly manner visible to the
public. True, these lists were filled with Torah
institutions, religious schools, botei knesses and
mikvas in nearly each and every city and town, but so
what? Would continued discrimination have been a better
option? Or perhaps Deri's mistake was in abandoning the
slips of paper method. Perhaps he should have continued
listing allocations according to this age-old practice, but
to make sure to write down totally different names, listing
institutions and organizations belonging to entirely
different sectors. Perhaps then he would have been spared
this trial--which comes after all of his energy has already
The outcome of the trial remains unknown. It could conclude
with an acquittal as many figures, including members of the
prosecution team, believe will happen, but it could also
produce exactly the opposite results. Be what may, the trial
is being carried out on the lowest level, the Magistrate
Court, and regardless of the outcome, there is a good chance
that this saga will continue for a long time to come, with a
District Court appeal, and perhaps even a High Court
It goes without saying that the media is giving the trial
extensive coverage. Not as much as the previous trial, when
entire pages and bold headlines and sometimes even lead
headlines were dedicated to the case, but there is
definitely considerable news coverage on a daily basis.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, the coverage
seems to be highly selective and unconscionably one-sided.
Those who feed off of the media, whether it be electronic or
written journalism, are struck by the extent to which the
trial is clearly stacked against Deri. The judges are
constantly reprimanding him and directing tough questions at
him as if a conviction is already certain.
The reality is just the opposite. The judges have been
rebuking the prosecution on a daily basis, yet this fact
fails to make the news. Two weeks ago, for instance, during
a six- or seven-hour session, the judges did not stop
reprimanding, cautioning and criticizing the prosecution.
Then, during one of the breaks, when the journalists
gathered together in the hall to sum up what had taken place
thus far, not one of them thought to mention that the main
story is essentially the unceasing remarks directed at the
prosecution by all three of the judges.
An attempt on the part of a bystander to direct their
attention to the real story of the day along with the
suggestion that perhaps they are mistaken in looking for the
main story elsewhere was received with scorn and
During that day's evening session, the judges issued a
warning to Deri and posed a slightly embarrassing question.
These journalists of repute did not find room in the
articles for the slightest mention of the judges' remarks to
the prosecution repeated to the point of admonition.
During last Monday's proceedings, Deri expressed his
disapproval of the newspaper reporting. Surprisingly, one of
the judges, Haim Lachuvitzky, joined him saying that he is
disgruntled over the media coverage as well. This comment,
of course, did not make the news either.