President Bill Clinton looked into the camera lenses and declared firmly: "I did not have sex with that woman." When the nature of his contact with Monica Lewinsky was revealed, the president explained that it wasn't really sexual relations. That was how he interpreted oral sex. Ehud Olmert also looked the public straight in the eye and convincingly vowed: "I never took a penny for my own pocket." Now, after public revelations of the types of amenities Olmert treated himself and his family to during their trips abroad, the man claims: This wasn't cash, but frequent-flyer points.
According to Olmert's most convenient version of the story, which he has transmitted through his spokespeople, his conduct in connection with his trips abroad, as part of his ministerial duties, can be explained thus: Either he was invited to give lectures or he flew as a representative of the state - so it goes without saying that travel expenses would be covered not by him but by the state or the party that issued the invitation. When he returned to Israel, he would claim frequent-flyer credits, which would be noted in the special bank account he kept at the Rishon Tours travel agency, which has handled his travel arrangements for years. Since he traveled a lot by virtue of his official job titles, he accumulated many points, which he then shared with his family.
What's wrong with that, the prime minister wonders. He is playing dumb. Membership in the frequent-flyer club is based on business interests. An airline rewards the customer with free tickets after that customer chooses to purchase a plane ticket with the specific airline. At this point, it is still unclear whether Olmert pocketed even a penny of public funds for personal use. What is clear, however, is that he did not spend a penny of his own money to fund his official trips abroad. Why, then, does he take it for granted that frequent-flyer points are there for his and his family's personal use?
And we have not even touched on the method allegedly used by Olmert - information which investigators have recently come across and which, for the time being, remains in the realm of allegations. The premier is suspected of using the travel agency as his personal tour manager, to plan a series of appearances during his trips and solicit donations to cover flight and hotel expenses from each of the host organizers. Each group is unaware that others are funding the same trip.
This guy is talking to me in Chinese, Olmert will probably mutter to himself once he reads these lines. The prime minister does not grasp the impropriety of his actions. To him, the media's ambushing him is a show of righteous indignation, perhaps even a plot cooked up for the benefit of his political rivals. For 30 years now, he has been accustomed to viewing the public arena as a magic carpet whose sole purpose is to smoothly fly him to his life of luxury, his own personal hedonistic kingdom. Throughout the years, Olmert used his various public-service positions like a spade with which he would dig for a buried treasure, which in this case was embodied by the amenities of the good life: living in a nice-sized home, flying first class and staying overnight at luxurious hotels.
He took advantage of his position to bypass the minutiae ordinary people need to cope with every day: the bureaucracy, long lines, and at times, monetary expenses. If he was looking to buy a house, he found a way to buy one at a price that seemed below its market value. If he wanted to sell a home, he found a buyer who was ready to pay a price that aroused the interest of the police. If he is forbidden from overtly receiving a speaking fee for his trips abroad (as part of the requirements of his state job), then he secretly accepts envelopes full of cash from a guy named Morris Talansky, and a travel agency in Rishon Letzion handles a bank account for him in which $100,000 - or frequent-flyer points of the same value - are accrued.
There's no need to wait for the criminal investigation to run its course to remove Olmert from his position. His unethical conduct, more of which has been revealed in recent months, should suffice to spur a sane country into removing him from the helm. Just as there is no need to prove the allegations against former president Moshe Katsav to know that he used his position to force himself on young women under his charge, there is also no need to wait for the criminal justice system's formal confirmation to know that Olmert abused his position in unsavory ways to spoil himself financially. As we mark two years since the Second Lebanon War, the question begs to be asked: What has Olmert done for the state? We already know what the state has done for him.
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