Don't Think Twice

Shula Zaken's line of defense might be this irrational 'loyalty,' which is described in a way that does not incriminate her boss Ehud Olmert

Every photograph of Shula Zaken says something about her. But in this photo, taken by Olivier Fitoussi in Jerusalem District Court on December 26, the look on her face and her body language conflate into a quite revealing portrait. It's as though a clear and radiant gaze is suddenly bursting through her fixed aesthetic credo, her makeup and the giant sunglasses that act as a hair bow. That gaze is aimed at Ehud Olmert.

"It was my brother Yoram who wrecked my life," she told the court in December, referring to Yoram Karshi, who confessed to bribing Tax Authority head Jackie Matza and, like him, was sent to jail. Attempting to defend herself, she said it was inconceivable that she would have arranged personal appointments with Olmert to make her brother look influential and help him pressure Matza.

Shula Zaken Ehud Olmert - Olivier Fitoussi
Olivier Fitoussi

She would not. Not because it would be dishonest, but because "It was impossible to gossip with me about Ehud Olmert. I will not give anyone anything that might harm him. I was told that Olmert was disappointed in me over the wiretapping affair. Nothing could break my heart more than that. I gave him my whole life."

She gave her pathos-laden testimony before she became defendant No. 9 in the massive Holyland corruption case, and before it was learned from the indictment - whose charges have yet to be proved - that she had received earrings and shoes, like some kind of comic relief in a drama over the hundreds of thousands of shekels she was allegedly paid to cover expenses incurred in selling her home. Even then, and in fact since January 2007, when she was first questioned about the Tax Authority affair, it was clear that Zaken had placed Olmert above her family, totally mingling what is personal with what is not and putting her loyalty to him before the public good. As though she preferred to speak in emotional rather than analytical terms; as though the prime minister's calendar were their own personal diary, and money transferred as part of the job or pocket money between parents and children. As though this talented bureau chief were incapable of independent thinking or of initiating transactions, only of "loyalty."

Zaken's line of defense might be this irrational "loyalty," which is described in a way that does not incriminate her boss. After all, their relationship could also be seen as a business partnership. Her own motives - which stem from her personality and her impulses, and are related to her consciousness of her career - are unknown. Her jewelry-heavy image, wrist shining with a bracelet from which dangle flower-shaped pendants, oversized pearls on her neck and ears, a showy gold ring on her finger and long curving red fingernails, adds up to vanity and preening. But her jewelry does not answer in full the question of why she is here. Jewelry cannot answer all questions.

Maybe her physical gestures can provide an answer. Here again, as in very many of the photographs taken of her in the neon-lit, bench-narrow halls of the courts, Shula Zaken places a finger on her mouth. She listens with great concentration. She gets it. She understands very well. She absorbs. She is an authority. She gave him her life, but apparently got a life in return.