After Sentence, Olmert May Hold His Head High, but Israel Hangs Its Head in Shame

After the sentencing of former PM Ehud Olmert, we can accuse the judges in Jerusalem of being too forgiving with regard to violations by public figures.

I might not have chosen to use this rather worn out image if we weren't on the verge of the Day of Judgment, in which we beg for the heavenly gates to open even as they are swinging shut.

The sentence meted out on Monday to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without a doubt constitutes a day of awe for Israel's judicial system. It joins other awful days of searching for the "mental element" among politicians - and only among politicians - accused of crimes, and it is an element that never seems to be found. Olmert wasn't the thief, the hole was the thief, and this hole is now wider than ever. Olmert wasn't accused and found guilty; it's the court that's guilty. We may justly accuse the judges in Jerusalem of being too forgiving and considerate with regard to violations by public figures. Instead of treating the lesser violations more seriously, it treated the serious violations too leniently.

Although Olmert claimed after the verdict two months ago that there had never been any envelopes from prosecution witness Moshe Talansky, the court itself said that there were indeed envelopes, and they were hidden in jacket pockets. The envelopes were found, but the fault was never found. The public's servants and activists will know that from now on, not only is it permitted to tailor suits prematurely, they should make sure the suits have big pockets, for private use when the need arises. Were mortal judges meant to whitewash sins?

We may also justly accuse the judges of speaking loftily but emptily. In the sentence, as in the verdict, there is no logical connection between the punishment and the sin.

"Breach of trust isn't a 'technical violation,' as Olmert tried to present it; it is a violation tainted with 'government corruption,'" the Jerusalem District Court judges opined. Yet this violation didn't even merit half a year of community service, merely a year's suspended sentence, which is meaningless to the criminal's public or private life.

As you wish: If this is a serious violation, how can you treat it with such lack of seriousness? And if it isn't such a big deal, than why subject us to pages of empty words? It would have behooved the judges to leave the rhetoric to the politicians, and not try to compete with them by raising their voices when their explanations are so weak.

The court is thus upholding a strange comment by our sages that to this day we find hard to understand: "Don't appoint a public official unless he has a box of vermin tied behind him," so that he shouldn't act arrogantly toward those who appointed him - that's apparently what the sages meant.

Well, Olmert left the courtroom "with his head held high," as he had wanted, but Israeli citizens left it with heads bowed. Now every politician knows that one can continue to serve the public while breaching its trust, and every citizen knows that services must be paid for, and its guardians do not guard them gratis.

Only two more low hurdles and Olmert will return triumphant. The court gave its official approval to his right of return, and after he has been proving his innocence for 30 years, he will soon be exempt from any more burdens of proof. He's done his bit, and he's been purified. But other politicians will be left with no alternative to examining their deeds and thinking introspective thoughts during these days of repentance before the heavenly books are signed. They will wonder where they went wrong. What were they thinking when they spent their lives being meticulous about keeping their hands clean, let alone their thoughts? Maybe if they had faltered and acted foolishly, they, too could have been prime minister, and given the opportunity to fall seven times and get up; to stand in the place where only penitents are allowed to stand, purifying themselves for another term of office.