On February 15, 2016 designated prisoner Ehud Olmert will report to the entrance of Maasiyahu Prison, dragging an overstuffed knapsack with him and followed by two Shin Bet security service bodyguards. After a few moments he will be swallowed up behind the iron gate that is oh-so-familiar to us from similar episodes. He will undergo a type of induction, will have to don a prisoners’ uniform and will be sent respectfully to his cell in the special VIP wing, whose construction is presently being completed.
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It will be a sad day, it will be a happy day – it’s all in the eyes and heart of the observer. It will certainly go down in the political and legal history of the State of Israel as the day when the most senior statesman, a former prime minister, entered prison like a common criminal.
The extreme and drama-filled roller coaster known as “the suspect/accused Ehud Olmert” has been with us for almost a decade. On Tuesday morning, in the Jerusalem courtroom, it executed another sharp and breathtaking slalom. Olmert’s acquittal of the crime of the disappearing 500,000-shekel ($128,00) check was predicted by most of the serious legal scholars who analyzed the ruling of Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen. The partial acquittals and the leniency in the punishment of others who were accused indicate that Rozen ruled as he did with a knife between his teeth and blood in his eyes, and not necessarily based on evidence.
Olmert’s victory circuit Tuesday in the lobby of the Supreme Court was unwarranted and arrogant, as usual. He didn’t receive a medal, a prize from the Movement for Quality Government, or a certificate of good standing, but a crushing, official and final mark of disgrace from the highest court in the land. It was important to him to etch into people’s awareness that he was found innocent in the Holyland affair and convicted for a marginal issue. It won’t help him. In the public’s collective memory he will always be remembered as the senior figure among those convicted in the affair of the ugly construction project that is stuck like a bone in the throat of Jerusalem and named after the Land of Israel - and, of course, as the first prime minister to be sent to prison.
It’s a shame that even during these difficult moments Olmert chooses to engage in public relations and spin instead of bowing his head, expressing regret and asking Israelis for forgiveness. In the end, his disgrace is our shame.
And the wild roller coaster hurtles on. The affair of the macher Morris Talansky, in which Olmert was convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison, has yet to be resolved by the Supreme Court. The same is true of the Rishon Tours affair, in which he was acquitted, and the Investment Center affair (convicted, without a prison sentence). Hovering above him is the heavy cloud of another indictment for interfering with legal procedures when he tried to convince his legendary former bureau chief Shula Zaken to lie and cover for him, in return for hush money and generous financial support.
Olmert’s rich and fascinating public career ended almost seven years ago when he left the Prime Minister’s Office. All the skeletons that cropped up and starred in his indictments were created in the years preceding his premiership, when he was serving as a minister or as the mayor of Jerusalem.
In his three years as prime minister he remained unsullied, as far as we know. Not a single financial scandal was tied to his name or that of his wife Aliza in the years when they lived in the official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Their living expenses were reasonable, logical, certainly far lower than the monstrous sums that have been publicized day-in, day-out in recent years. Olmert became calmer when he captured the summit, when he unexpectedly reached the top. But his dark, tainted past, which was so unnecessary, loomed and haunted him and gave him no rest for even a single day.
In his years as prime minister Olmert dealt only with affairs of state. His ministers and the leaders of the public and security establishment recall him favorably, as a talented and capable leader and manager who knew how to make decisions, to navigate, to maneuver. World leaders admired him, liked him. He, who grew up in far-right circles, underwent a dramatic personal and ideological upheaval when he negotiated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a peace agreement in which Israel was supposed to make far-reaching concessions that Olmert realized were essential.
How do these qualities conform with his criminal, cynical, corrupt and greedy nature, which comes up repeatedly in the indictments as well as in Shula Zaken’s recordings? That’s already a matter for psychologists and criminologists.
On February 15, 2016, the television channels and websites will cover Olmert’s last journey as a free man, until the clanging of the metal doors is heard. Rest assured that even on that day, columnist Dan Margalit from the daily Israel Hayom (a representative of “the sons of light” upon the earth) will be there, ready and willing to share his thoughts with all the Jewish people. There is no joy like schadenfreude. For decades, the years when everything took place, they were the best and closest of friends, and he didn’t know. Dan didn’t know. The Second Lebanon War separated them, and since then Dan doesn’t know. And he is insatiable???
On Tuesday, finding it difficult to conceal his disappointment at the partial acquittal and the dramatic mitigation of the punishment, he noted in interviews with the media that “In my opinion, they should have convicted him on that clause [of the missing check] too.”
Never mind, Israel Hayom is not an orphan, there are additional judicial decisions on the way. There will be no lack of reasons to celebrate.