Fresh Out of Prison, Former PM Olmert Attacks Israel’s Gatekeepers

Ehud Olmert, who served 16 months on corruption convictions, also blames Netanyahu and accuses the law enforcement system during his time of 'persecution'

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaking in Tel Aviv, February 7, 2018.
Meged Gozani

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, eight months out of prison on graft convictions including bribery, has accused the Israeli law enforcement authorities of “crazy persecution,” saying that “when the system wants to stick someone with a crime and mobilizes in full force to convict you of something, they’ll convict you.”

“I left [prison] with the knowledge that this wasn’t where I belonged and that I never should have been there,” Olmert told the Keshet television station Saturday night. “If anything has changed, it’s that my feeling that there was injustice and crazy persecution here has grown stronger.”

Olmert also urged his successor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to step down amid his own battle with corruption allegations.

“I would tell him, ‘Bibi, resign in an elegant manner; maybe there’s a chance you’ll manage to preserve a minimum of respect for the good things you've done. Run away, disappear, so they’ll neither see you nor hear you,” Olmert said.

He also assailed the people who headed the law enforcement system at the time and are no longer in office, including Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss.

Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2009, said the investigations against him were born of an effort to topple his government and pointed a finger at the man who replaced him, Netanyahu.

“It was clear that there was an effort by somebody to inflame this,” Olmert said. “Suddenly, in my last year as prime minister – a first investigation, a second, a third. Is that by chance? Did that happen naturally? It reached the level of persecution.”

But he sought to downplay the seriousness of his own offenses, which included bribery.

Referring to the Jerusalem District Court’s verdict, he added: “After this whole saga, you go to court and they tell you that on the two charges over which you resigned, you’re being acquitted.” But in one of those cases, involving his receipt of cash-filled envelopes from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, he was later convicted of fraud and breach of trust on appeal.

“They said I took envelopes of cash for myself,” he added. “Even when I was convicted, it’s because I didn’t pay my aide. I didn’t take any money.”

Olmert also noted that he was acquitted in the Holyland corruption case. In that case, he was initially convicted by the Tel Aviv District Court, but the Supreme Court acquitted him on the grounds of reasonable doubt. Still, it upheld his bribery conviction in a separate case, involving the company  Hazera. Olmert wound up spending more than 16 months in prison before his release last year.  

Olmert accused Shula Zaken, his former confidante and bureau chief who eventually turned state’s evidence, of deceiving him in his innocence and taking bribes behind his back. He also said he regretted the conversation with Zaken that resulted in his conviction for obstructing justice.

“I only asked her not to saddle me with something I hadn’t done,” he said.

He insisted that his case was very different from Netanyahu’s. “They opened countless investigations against me, but not one of them dealt with my role as prime minister,” he said. “Everything alleged against the incumbent is connected to his role as prime minister. Nobody is saying I called a diamond trader and said, ‘Buy my wife such and such.’”

As he put it, “I was put in the stocks over 60,000 shekels [$17,400] that was given to me as a political donation. Compare that to a million shekels’ worth of champagne and jewelry.”

Regarding his negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert said he was “extremely close to reaching” a peace agreement “and I paid a very heavy price for this” – the implication being that the alleged effort to topple him was due to his attempt to advance the pace process. In support of this theory, he quoted Yuval Rabin, the son of assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who said two prime ministers who sought to advance peace were liquidated.

Olmert also attacked the law enforcement agencies in his new memoir,  portions of which were published in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday.

“Every day it’s becoming clearer that the web Bibi wove is corrupting more and more good things,” he wrote of the investigations against Netanyahu. “The waste, the hedonism, the disregard for minimum standards of modesty and restraint cry out to the heavens. We’re just at the start of a saga that will shake the country. Even what has already been published is a frightening total of [illicit] benefits that has no precedent.”

He also assailed Ehud Barak, who served as his defense minister, and accused Netanyahu of being behind the public protests against Olmert for the way he conducted the 2006 Second Lebanon War.