BACKGROUND / Olmert Financier Prefers to Avoid the Limelight

Shlomo Shamir
Uri Blau
Guy Leshem
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Shlomo Shamir
Uri Blau
Guy Leshem

Long Island Jewish American mogul and millionaire financier Morris Talansky, who is suspected of bribing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is described by acquaintances as a man who keeps his business affairs out of the spotlight.

Although he is a known fundraiser for and contributor to Jewish causes in the United States and Israel, nobody seems to know how he made his money. Moreover, though he has participated in dozens of public events, his photograph cannot be found on the Internet.

"He tries not to attract attention and to stay in the shadows," New York rabbis and businesspeople said of Talansky, 77, who is an Orthodox Jew.

After graduating from Yeshiva University in 1954, he was ordained a rabbi, but went on to study law at a New York law school and then went into business. Years later, he served on Yeshiva University's board of trustees.

Talansky and his first wife, Marion, have three children: Yitzhak (Alan), a dentist and lecturer at Jerusalem's Machon Lev college; Bracha Tova (Barbara), a psychologist living in Ra'anana; and Ruth, an architect living in the U.S.

In 1996, after 40 years of marriage, the couple separated in what associates call "an ugly divorce." Earlier, in 1990, Marion moved alone to Israel. "I wanted to immigrate years ago, but my husband didn't want to. Finally, I decided enough already and came," Marion, who lives in Jerusalem today, told Haaretz.

She added that during her marriage to Talansky, she met Olmert and his office manager, Shula Zaken.

Talansky now lives with his second wife, Helen, in Woodsburgh, Long Island. He also has an apartment in the Wolfson Towers - a modern high-rise luxury apartment complex overlooking the Knesset and government ministries.

Talansky makes some of his money by fundraising and consulting for Israeli and Jewish charity organizations. Among other things, he held a key post in the New Jerusalem Fund's U.S. office; in the past, he also raised money for the ORT network.

However, Talansky made his name largely due to the funds he raised as executive director of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which solicits overseas donations for the Jerusalem hospital. A Jewish activist in Brooklyn said Talansky was "the main New York activist for Shaare Zedek. In his heyday, he raised millions of dollars for the hospital."

"He didn't bother with small contributions, he went for the big ones," the activist added.

It was during this period that Talansky met Olmert, who, during his 10-year term as mayor of Jerusalem, was frequently featured at Shaare Zedek dinners and other fundraising events sponsored by the medical center.

Professor Yonatan Halevy, Shaare Zedek's director, said Talansky stopped working for the hospital in 1997. Sources in American Friends of Shaare Zedek confirmed this. However, American tax records indicate that Talansky received $90,000 from American Friends of Shaare Zedek for consulting work in 2004 and 2005.

Talansky also owns a small company in the U.S. called Trans Global Resources, which he founded in April 1998. He is registered as sole shareholder and director of the company, which provides investment consulting and business services. It also deals in real estate investments.

Since the 1980s, the American tax records show, Talansky has contributed to several candidates in local and national elections, including presidential candidates. Among others, he supported George Bush and Rudy Guiliani. He mostly donated sums of $1,000.

When Olmert met Talansky

Long Island mogul Morris Talansky is a longtime acquaintance of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, even before the latter was elected Jerusalem mayor. Olmert used to call Talansky "my dear old friend," and his aides referred to him as "Mr. T." Olmert's close associates called Talansky "the banker" or "the launderer."

Talansky has been named as one of the contributors to Olmert's mayoral campaign in 1998. Olmert's associates say Talansky used to meet Olmert when he visited Israel in his bureau or in a Jerusalem hotel lobby. When Olmert visited New York the two usually met in Olmert's hotel suite.

Some Jerusalem municipal officials remember Talansky's visits. "He used to go directly inside without stopping for small talk with advisers and secretaries," said a former senior city official who worked with Olmert.

Veteran city officials said an ultra-Orthodox contractor and political wheeler dealer, Yehuda Peli, introduced Olmert to Talansky.

Talansky, who was executive director of the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Medical Center for over 20 years, is believed to have met Olmert during this period. Olmert frequently attended Shaare Zedek dinners and other fundraising events sponsored by the Jerusalem-based hospital.

Talansky's associates have recently denied reports that he was a right-wing activist who was acting against Olmert for ideological reasons. They said Olmert and Talansky kept close ties even after Olmert modified his political approach and supported the disengagement.