Olmert Will Survive This Too

Ehud Olmert is not an icon of public probity. His record is rife with investigations and legal tangles, none of which came to anything. What they did achieve is to give him a reputation as a slick and shifty politico.

So far Olmert has weathered the affairs concerning him, unscathed at that. He will probably survive the Bank Leumi scandal too. The prosecution hasn't presented its evidence against the prime minister to the public, and the challenge prosecutor Eran Shendar faces is not trivial.

For one thing, privatizing a bank is not like privatizing a government company.  It is a far more complicated process, in which contenders and forced to strip bare in public, exposing their businesses and assets, proving their financial mettle, and generally running a gauntlet until receiving the Bank of Israel's blessing to proceed. You can't just amble along with a fat wallet and buy a bank in Israel, which is just as well.

Also, the Bank of Israel is closely involved in judging the candidates, which makes it all the less likely that a given candidate can skew the outcome.

Even if we look at Olmert's specific (alleged) involvement in this case - he is suspected of trying to introduce changes to the terms that would benefit friends of his, Daniel Abrams and Frank Lowy - it will be tough to prove that his actions were criminal. If terms were relaxed for one bidder, that surely helped the others as well.

Also, ultimately, Lowy and Abrams withdrew from the race, which will probably help Olmert dodge the bullet again.

None of which can hide the fact that the links between wealth and power in this country are a fatal combination. One result is that Israel's politicians and prime ministers spend all too much of their time being quizzed by police. Olmert, known for his affection for the rich and powerful, is all the more at risk of having his precious time taken up in dank interrogation rooms.

He might do well to adopt the simple approach of former Justice Dalia Dorner. In an interview with TheMarker, she said, very simply, "Why would a person contemplating investment in Israel, have to meet with the prime minister? Apparently, to get an inside deal."

Investments are not an intimate matter, Dorner went on to say. "If somebody wants to invest, he will. When a lawyer says hat his client wants to meet with the prime minister right away, that's corruption. It is soft corruption, but it looks just as bad to me."

It would be naïve to hope that Israel's politicians adopt her stark view. But if one were to, he would at least be able to devote his energy to serving the public, not waste it consulting with lawyers and jousting with detectives.