Olmert's Branding as a Traitor - a Long Unfolding Drama

The fact that the sparks of brightness in his public activity will likely be forgotten is as harsh a blow to former PM Olmert as his jail sentence.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gestures during a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem in this June 18, 2008 file photo.
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gestures during a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem in this June 18, 2008 file photo. Credit: Reuters
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Months will pass before we see the steel door of an Israeli prison slam shut behind Ehud Olmert, if it is to happen at all. It is likely that the Supreme Court will not carry out the extremely tough sentence the former prime minister received on Tuesday – six years in prison – until a final decision is made in his corruption case.

Until then, Olmert will walk modestly among us, shunned in all prestigious forums, in think tanks both here and abroad, and in the dining rooms of leaders and people of influence who were once his friends and business partners.

A huge mark of disgrace is branded on his forehead, and a very harsh and heavy punishment awaits him.

Meanwhile, already bubbling in the judicial pipeline are appeals by the prosecution of Olmert's acquittals in the cases of the cash-filled envelopes he received from American-Jewish macher Morris Talansky, and the double-billed trips in the Rishon Tours affair.

On top of that, he may also be charged with obstruction of justice. And we have not even mentioned the new evidence against him that's been provided by Shula Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief, who, unlike the three monkeys in the well-known Chinese proverb, saw evil, heard evil and spoke evil.

Theoretically, a conviction — whether a repeat conviction or a first-time one — in any or most of these cases could put the former premier behind bars for more than decade.

In any event, at this stage Olmert and his attorneys may be considering (and if they are not, perhaps they should) the possibility of contacting the State Prosecutor’s Office and asking to make a deal: unifying the cases, clearing the table and reaching an agreement on one, all-inclusive jail term that would end, once and for all, the nightmarish saga that has been dragging on since the middle of Olmert’s term as prime minister, between 2006 and 2009.

Maybe the time has come to liberate us all from the ongoing discomfort, the shame and disgrace and humiliation, and the heartburn that every citizen is now feeling after what we've all now heard, and put an end to it all.

Olmert will always be remembered as the first of the corrupt, the highest-ranking convict. Unfortunately, this will be his legacy, the way he will go down in Israeli history. The sparks of brightness in his public activity — and there have been some — will be pushed to the margins and may even disappear. That is certainly just as harsh a blow for him as the prison sentence.

Until not very long ago, when it seemed as if he was heading toward acquittal in the Holyland case, and before Zaken turned on him and sang to the detectives, he had been giving serious consideration to making a political comeback — not as a finance or foreign minister, but at the very top of the pyramid.

Many politicians, of high and low status, incumbent or former leaders and from various parties, made pilgrimages to him at his office in the high-rise on Ha’arba’a Street in Tel Aviv, where ambitious, far-reaching political schemes were being discussed.

It is likely that these people, too, will now vanish from Olmert's life, except for a handful of friends who will never abandon him.

When handing down the sentence, Judge David Rozen called the former prime minister a traitor for accepting bribes and betraying the public’s trust – indeed, an exceptionally harsh statement. That brings us back to the early days of the Talansky affair (or maybe it was Rishon Tours, who can recall?), when the case was still under gag order.

Rumors that Olmert was being investigated secretly for severe crimes spread throughout the country like wildfire. One of the speculations at the time was that the man had gone so far as to betray his country.

How bitterly ironic that not so many years later, the word “traitor” appears in the sentence meted out by Judge Rozen.

The next president, assuming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan doesn't come to fruition and a president is elected, will probably have to deal with a pardon request from Olmert. Such a request is bound to be made, sooner or later.

Three years ago, when former president Moshe Katzav was sentenced to seven years in prison for rape, Yossi Beilin – who was justice minister in the Nineties – suggested that Katzav be pardoned on two conditions: That he confess and express remorse and that he spend at least one, symbolic day in jail.

The innovative idea of Beilin, who has never lacked innovative ideas, could also be applicable to Olmert, in the right circumstances.

Ehud Olmert in court on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.Credit: Yotam Ronen

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