In his maneuvering for an evacuation from Gaza and against Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon has only two loyalists, Ehud Olmert and Shaul Mofaz, who are charging Netanyahu in a pincer movement. The participants in the rumble have forgone manners, politeness and pretense. They say about each other what the public thinks about them.
One of the more egregious comments Olmert made concerns a "corrupt relationship" between Netanyahu and the deposed director general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Joseph Barel. Olmert's suspicions were raised because he himself apparently was also the victim of an attempt to seduce him. Olmert told Maariv that Barel offered him "a weekly TV show that would elevate you. You and Likud Central Committee members will get screen time."
Barel did not ask for anything in return - Attorney General Menachem Mazuz refers to that as a gift - but Olmert was repelled by the offer. "I threw him out of the room, but he came back in through the window to the office of Shula Zaken, my office manager, telling her, `let's set a date,' and Zaken confirmed this, joining the conversations: `I didn't know what to do. I called Ehud on the inner office phone and he told me, are you mad? Throw him out of you office right now.'"
Two weeks later, Olmert got a call from Amnon Nadav, then-director of Israel Radio and just coincidentally a candidate for Barel's job. Nadav, said Olmert, "was embarrassed" and reported to Olmert that he had "uncomfortably" been ordered to recruit Olmert's brother as a regular analyst, who would also get his own program.
The brother, Yossi Olmert, is a veteran, experienced broadcaster. He can be offered a radio program regardless of what one of his three brothers do. Nonetheless, Ehud Olmert's instincts were awakened, smelling conspiracy. "I'm warning you," he said to Nadav, "don't you dare follow that order. It is an offer of a bribe."
Strange: If the police or prosecution had made such a charge, the politicians - Olmert in front - would have bitterly whined that there's no connection. Justice, or at least precedent, is on their side. Last April, when announcing he was closing an alleged bribery case against Olmert, Mazuz laid out a factual narrative that began with a message that Shula Zaken left for David Appel, asking for a contribution to Olmert's campaign. Appel returned the call, heard from her that she had to "organize financial support for Olmert's campaign for the Likud leadership," and during the conversation, "Appel asked Zaken to invite the mayor of Athens."
According to Mazuz, that was not the end of the conversation. "During the conversation with Zaken, Appel makes time to talk with Olmert on another line, and there is no mention of the financial contribution in that conversation. Olmert tells Appel that he intends to run for the Likud leadership, and Appel tells Olmert that this time he'll be behind Olmert all the way. And almost in the same breath, Appel raises a request for `a small favor.' Olmert responded, `whatever you want, tell me, I'll prepare a letter.'"
The three-way Olmert- Zaken-Appel conversation is remarkably similar to the Barel-Olmert-Zaken conversation, but the conclusion is different, perhaps because Mazuz is less suspicious than Olmert.
According to Mazuz, "the basic element of the crime of bribery - the existence of the gift and the awareness of it as such - is not consolidated enough in this case," referring to the Appel-Olmert relationship. Mazuz also never managed to discover who - Zaken or another Olmert aide - was responsible for "coordinating the visit of the Athens mayor to meet Appel's needs." The suspicion that Olmert, "who heads the pyramid and makes use of various aides," knew what Zaken or someone else was doing in cooperation with Appel was not proven, said Mazuz. With Barel, Olmert used a much lower threshold for evidence.
Unlike Olmert's brother, Geula Cohen's son and Judy Shalom's husband did get to broadcast from Barel's radio. Mazuz instructed Silvan Shalom and Tzachi Hanegbi not to take part in the vote to remove Barel, but according to what his spokesman said in response to a question, they would not have been punished if they ignored his instructions.
Mazuz's instructions were only "administrative and did not specify if it would have been criminal if they had voted." As for the question why no similar conflict of interest was found in the decisions of minister Ariel Sharon concerning Appel, who employed Sharon's son, Gilad, Mazuz's spokesman suggested "a return reading - or perhaps a first reading - of Mazuz's decision concerning the Greek island.
"It would have been preferable," said Mazuz in that ruling, "if Sharon had avoided dealing directly on Appel's affairs, given the connection between them, but that does not lead to a crime, and they were said on the administrative plane."
Indeed, there on the administrative plane, Sharon, Olmert and Mazuz live in comfort and serenity.
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