One day at the end of the 1970s, Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek returned from a trip overseas, emptied his pockets and laid a pile of banknotes on his desk - pounds sterling and dollars, altogether several hundred. "I brought you some money," he told the people running his election campaign, who then collected the bills.
I was then Kollek's bureau chief. I believe that the law at the time permitted raising such contributions, but the issue never occurred to me. I was impressed by Kollek's ability to make ties with so many millionaires and persuade them to give him money.
With a fondness for luxury hotels and good cigars, he was the sort of bon vivant that was then a rare breed in the Israeli foreign service. Most politicians at the time still conformed, at least publicly, to the country's Spartan ethos. Kollek was a millionaire without millions - not a rich man himself, but he spent the contributions he raised for Jerusalem's needs as he saw fit, as if they were his. He enjoyed every moment.
Whoever writes Ehud Olmert's biography one day would do well to examine the thesis that he wanted to be Jerusalem mayor not only because he was planning his continued ascent to the prime minister's office, but also because he identified the role with Kollek's penchant for the good life.
The difference is that Kollek came from Vienna. He derived his gratification among other things from the company of famous writers, artists and musicians; his ability to get things done stemmed first from his use of David Ben-Gurion's name and later from his use of Jerusalem's name. He tended to keep away from domestic politics.
Olmert, a native of Binyamina, belongs to the first generation of professional, Israeli-born politicians. He has been in the Knesset since he was 28, but as was customary at the time, he was wont to display contempt for politics. He seemed to use cynicism to protect his integrity; over the years it became a central component of his personality.
His first boss was Shmuel Tamir, a great cynic and one of the first rich politicians. Israeli politics don't usually enrich its participants, but presents them with numerous temptations. Morris Talansky's testimony adds Olmert to a long list of politicians who were tempted to risk their reputation for almost nothing. Like Shakespeare's Richard III, they are willing to exchange their kingdom for a horse. One minister allowed some contractor to lay tiles in his kitchen, one ambassador brought a few sofas from New York. Talansky said he gave Olmert $150,000 over 15 years - $833 dollars a month.
These people are so alarming not because they are such great transgressors, but because when faced with a small temptation they act so unwisely, and are ready to risk so much for so little.
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