Weizman's crime, if any

Israel: Investigation of president for money received is sad spectacle that must go forward.

January 29, 2000

BLEMISHED heroes are not the monopoly of any country. Israelis are variously dismayed, angry or indignant at the criminal investigation of President Ezer Weizman for receiving money from a French businessman while a member of parliament and the Cabinet. The investigation, launched in the wake of revelations by a free-lance journalist, should go forward. Until then, Mr. Weizman must be presumed innocent. But also suspect, which raises the question whether he can fulfill his ceremonial duties until the cloud lifts.

Ezer Weizman at 75 is a former air force commander, deputy chief of staff, founder of the hawkish Likud Party, defector from it, warmaker, peacemaker and nephew of Israel's first president, Chaim Weizmann. He is known for gruff humor and blunt opinions. Few would welcome his disgrace.

But even Mr. Weizman's version of the gifts from French businessman Edouard Saroussi creates disquiet. The news report said that payments totaled $453,465 from 1988 to 1993. Israel's Justice Department cited apparent evidence of a business relationship earlier, raising tax questions.

Mr. Weizman's American admirers must hold their fire and breath. The standard of judgment is not someone's ethical standard for someone else, but Israel's law.

Israel is a strong society that can handle this. Nothing will diminish Mr. Weizman's achievements, which cannot exonerate misdeeds of the sort alleged.

Mr. Weizman was twice elected by the parliament to five-year terms as president. It is understandable that, maintaining innocence, he is determined not to resign. A leave of absence until all is cleared up would seem in order.

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