olmert - Emil Salman - December 6 2011
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem District Court last month. Photo by Emil Salman
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Some buildings in capital cities have negative symbolism attached to them. The Watergate buildings in Washington, for example - that complex of apartments and offices on the Potomac which became a symbol for government corruption following the crimes and subsequent lies of President Richard Nixon and his aides in the early 1970s. As the representative of Jerusalem, and its sibling on the mountain, the Holyland complex emerges as an extravagant memorial to municipal corruption, riches to entrepreneurs, fringe benefits to elected officers and officials, and kickbacks to go-betweens.

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The Holyland affair, which is being brought to trial following the indictment of the suspects in this case and two other, overlapping cases from other parts of Israel, must serve as a watershed in the way the public relates to the conduct of government. The charges against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his successor at the mayor's office in Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, and many others, remain to be proven; the defendants will, of course, remain innocent unless proven guilty. This is the burden of the prosecution, which in great part relies on a state witness with failing health and whose credibility will be tested. However, the main defendant, which will find it hard to present a defense, is the system itself.

This is a fundamentally corrupt system of give and take, of bribes to senior officials in key places and to aides who are close to the key, in return for enormous profits for the entrepreneurs at the public's expense. The bill comes in two ways. First with the distorted process of permits, which hide interests and ulterior motives without offering equal opportunities to those not familiar with the twisted world of bribery and who refuse to be corrupt. Second is the resulting architecture, which makes the skyline of Israel's capital ugly.

Jerusalem has no patent on the system. It exists in many other towns and cities and, according to the police files and the probes of the State Comptroller, characterizes local government. And the way from local government to national government is short - Olmert is a case in point. The police investigators and the prosecutors, with dedicated and sophisticated work, managed to build an apparently convincing case. The next mission, to examine and then decide, is not only for the judges in the Holyland case but also for the entire public. They must reject corruption and remove those stained by it from government.

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