"I believed that Ehud Olmert could be the one, the one with the way to bring people together," American fund-raiser Morris Talansky said Tuesday, explaining his initial reason for joining forces with Ehud Olmert. Talansky, the key witness in the cash envelopes investigation against the prime minister, was speaking to Haaretz on his fifth and last day of cross-examinations by Olmert's attorneys.
"I saw him already when [Olmert] was health minister, and how he helped Shaare Zedek Hospital" in Jerusalem, Talansky said. "How he brought together religious people and non-religious. He is very understanding, with a sharp intellect, incredible charisma. When he spoke he knew how to reflect the aspirations of a nation. I never met a man with such political astuteness."
So what do you think of Olmert today, in light of the current investigation?
"It's very confusing," Talansky admitted. "I find it very hard, I can't understand, the court and the public have to decide."
The last significant meeting between the two was in New York in November 2005. That meeting figured greatly in yesterday's court session. Two months later, Olmert was prime minister and had no time for his old friend.
Their last meeting was when Olmert addressed both houses of Congress, in May 2006. Talansky was invited to meet him by Olmert's bureau chief, Shula Zaken, rather than by the prime minister himself.
"Afterward there was a small reception, but I wasn't invited to it. I just went home," Talansky recalled.
Were you disappointed?
"No, I understand that he has a country to run."
Officially, Talansky is barred by the court from commenting publicly on the case, but that does not prevent him from expressing disappointment with his treatment by the defense, and he takes pains to stress that no one disputes the basic facts regarding the money received by Olmert.
Talansky seems to be searching for warmth and affection in Israel.
"Everywhere I go, people in the street say to me hazak ve'ematz ["be strong"]," Talansky said. "No one until now has shouted at me in the street," he related with evident satisfaction.
He insists that despite the toll the case and its attendant depositions and cross-examination have taken on him, he is still a fervent Zionist.
"Israel is still the only place where the Jewish people can grow," Talansky said.
Talansky rejects the direct and indirect attempts by Olmert's associates to insinuate that he is an extreme right-winger who is trying to get back at the prime minister for his leftward turn.
"No way, I never gave any money to any of the Zionist organizations; I don't march with them. I only give to medical and educational institutions," Talansky insisted. He also says he was not bothered by Olmert's decision to leave Likud and join Kadima.
Toward the end of the cross-examination, when the defense team brought up Talansky's statement to the police about how he had given money to Yitzhak Rabin, then a rank-and-file Knesset member, when he spoke at a fund-raiser in the U.S. for Shaare Zedek, Talansky hung his head and told the court, "I apologize to the family and apologize for the story."
Both before and after the session, however, he insisted to Haaretz, "What I said about Rabin is true - he also took money."
Talansky said he had heard about the latest Olmert scandal, which Haaretz revealed last week, concerning the 1993 loan that Olmert received from Israeli-U.S. businessman Joe Elmaleh. "Yes I know him," Talansky said. "He's big in the oil business. I met him once. I know he was very close to Olmert."