Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Decision time has come in the corruption case of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Photo by Amit Shabi
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The verdict in the Holyland bribery case is a defining moment in the history of the battle against public corruption in Israel. The prosecution understood this when it sent one of the leaders of the prosecuting team, attorney Jonathan Tadmor, to read out a press statement that opened with a paraphrase of the words of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion: “Let all who take and give bribes know that no one is immune forever.”

The Holyland housing complex that slashes the Jerusalem skyline has turned into a symbol of government corruption; a concrete symbol of how those with money can bend decisions made by government institutions that affect the public to their narrow interests. Most of the accused in the Holyland case, who included the economic and government elite of Jerusalem, were convicted of serious bribery charges. The most prominent conviction was that of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was convicted of taking bribes to cover his brother’s debts and his own political debts, though he was acquitted of two other charges.

This conviction, coming after Olmert’s conviction last year for fraud and breach of trust in the Investment Center case, casts a heavy pall on his political career, from the Knesset benches through the mayoralty of Jerusalem and all the way to the prime minister’s seat. These convictions also illustrate the degree to which bribery has penetrated the country’s highest, most sensitive decision-making centers and has become a seemingly legitimate way for even high-level public servants to conduct business.

The verdict issued by Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen is worthy of praise for its clear language, which describes the seriousness of the actions of those found guilty and the ramifications for the public at large. Similarly, Rozen is to be admired for his quick and efficient handling of the trial, which was one of the most complex cases adjudicated in Israel in decades.

In his verdict, the judge hinted to the prosecution that the state’s witness agreement signed at the last minute with Olmert’s close former aide Shula Zaken was superfluous. “If we’re talking about obstructing [judicial] processes, there was no great process here. I would imagine that you knew why she was testifying the way she testified,” he wrote. This remark by the judge must be interpreted as a sign of encouragement to continue the determined fight against corruption, even and especially at the highest echelons. His words give a boost to the prosecution, which suffered a serious blow last year when Olmert was acquitted in the Rishon Tours and Talansky cases, and was subject to harsh attacks from Olmert and his associates.

This verdict does not bring the fight against corruption to a close, but puts a tailwind behind it. The judicial system must continue to uproot government corruption in Israel, and battle it with the same degree of seriousness with which it addresses other types of corruption.