- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

JERUSALEM - Embarrassed at charges Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had accepted envelopes stuffed with cash from an American businessman, Israelis are doubly stunned to discover that the investigation of Mr. Olmert has won Israel extraordinary praise from bitter enemies throughout the Arab world.

“This is democracy at its best. Enough of dictatorship in the Arab world. Let’s learn from the Israeli example. Let’s benefit from Israel’s democracy,” a Palestinian named Hani wrote on his blog from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

A flood of similar sentiments has appeared on Arabic Web sites in recent days, many of them recorded by journalist Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post.

The bloggers inevitably compare Israeli democracy with the lack of transparency in Arab regimes.

“I have always hated Israel very much,” wrote Khaled in Saudi Arabia, “but there is still no one above the law there.”

Another blogger named Majed wrote, “Show me one Arab or Islamic country where a prime minister or a senior government official was ever questioned for financial corruption or bribery.”

Yet another blogger describing himself as Syrian Voice writes: “Despite my hatred for the Zionist regime, I have a lot of admiration and respect for this entity because there is no one above the law. In the Arab world, laws are broken every day and no one seems to care.”

The amount of money Mr. Olmert is suspected of having received over 15 years from the businessman, about $150,000, was described by many as laughable.

“What a fool,” wrote Ahmed in Jordan. “This is what an Egyptian minister gets in a day or what a Saudi CEO gets in 45 minutes, or a Kuwaiti government official in five minutes.”

A blogger named Jasser Abdel Hamid had some sardonic advice for Mr. Olmert: “Why don’t you seek Arab citizenship. Then you can take as much money as you want. If they discover the theft, they will erect a statue for you in a public square.”

Admiration for Israel has been expressed in the Arab world when the Jewish state engages in self-criticism, including the firing of President Moshe Katsav last year for purported sexual misdeeds.

Such reaction inevitably surprises Israelis, who assume that their enemies will seize on the Jewish state’s failings as an indication of its deterioration and eventual collapse.

However, Israeli self-criticism inevitably draws applause from Arabs and expressions of misgiving about the absence of criticism in their own societies.

When the government-appointed Winograd commission investigating the war in Lebanon two years ago issued its findings, laying blame on Mr. Olmert and other leaders for the war’s failings, Israel’s most formidable enemy, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, praised Israel for its soul-searching.

It was noteworthy, Sheik Nasrallah said, that an investigative commission appointed by Mr. Olmert condemned him.

“Even though they’re our enemies,” he said, “it is worthy of respect that the political forces and the Israeli public act quickly to save their state, entity, army and their existence.”

More than one blogger even used the latest Olmert scandal to suggest that Israel may not be a demon state but a neighbor worth welcoming into the region.

A Saudi blogger who dared to label himself Israel Lover, wrote: “Israel is a state that deserves to exist. It deserved our profound respect. I wish I were a citizen of this state.”

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