A Tale of Two Ehuds

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The two Ehuds in better days. Then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Then Defense Minister Ehud Barak in July, 2007. Credit: Tess Scheflan

In one corridor, on one floor, in one building in Ramat Gan, are the offices of two lawyers. The offices may be small, but each firm manages to hold its own against the giants in the field which have dozens and sometimes hundreds of attorneys serving the most powerful figures in the political and economic establishment of Israel.

A visitor who comes to 5 Hilazon St., must decide, upon exiting the elevator, whether to turn left, to the office of Ofer Bartal, or right, to Oded Savorey. Bartal represents Shula Zaken, who was for years the confidante of Ehud Olmert. Savorey represents Col. Erez Weiner, the sharpest thorn in the side of Ehud Barak.

In the 1940s, Ehud had a place of honor in the roster of Hebrew boys’ names, projecting authenticity and honesty. From Binyamina to Nahalal, to Mishmar Hasharon and back, Manor and Dayan, Barak (né Brug) and Olmert.

Measured against Israeli standards of power, money and respect, Barak and Olmert made good on the hopes that were hung on them. Occasionally -- when they were not competing against each other directly -- they were partners. Later they became rivals. On the way to the top they became corrupt, each in his own way, each with his own real estate, and both overstayed their public welcome, so much so that their troubles gave birth to a new species of schadenfreude: schaden-ehud, one could call it. And still, they were flesh of the establishment’s flesh, of the establishment itself. Hubs of the gears of politics, law, finance, defense -- army, industry, imports, exports. When they got into trouble with the law, or with the State Comptroller’s Office, they usually got off cheap and they believed that so it would always be, that the country was Ehud -- if not always the same Ehud.

Neither of them noticed the change taking place beneath their feet. Barak was trapped in the web of the Harpaz affair, which in contrast to conventional wisdom was not about the appointment of Yoav Galant as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces -- that was Barak’s private mission, for which no outside aid was needed -- rather, it was about selling the decision to the army and the public. When he directed his hostility at then Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who for three years now has been engaged in passive defense, Barak made the mistake of underestimating his real challenger -- Ashkenazi’s assistant, Weiner -- who refuses to capitulate to the injustice done to him.

Barak is backed up by a battery of top-charging attorneys, including one (Navot Tel Zur) who is himself currently caught up in suspicions of obstruction of justice in the Olmert-Zaken case, and Savorey, a reserve member of the military prosecution, is doing to him what Bartal did to Olmert on behalf of the civil prosecution. Savorey’s move from two years ago -- to obtain materials collected by the State Comptroller’s Office, including Barak’s groveling before Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and his dismissive attitude toward Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein -- greatly undermined Barak’s attempt to cast himself as the victim of the affair. Weinstein will soon review the interim conclusions of the police investigation. If he concludes that the investigation has been thorough, thorough enough to withstand the review of the High Court of Justice, he will close the case -- the main injured party of which, to date, is Weiner.

The professional success of the office neighbors on Hilazon [“Snail”] Street, at a time when their patronizing, well-connected rivals are shooting blanks, is one point along a continuum that includes other noteworthy points: the positive public response to Judge David Rozen’s harsh remarks regarding corruption in Ehud Olmert’s case, the voices of resistance expressed by army conscripts on social media; and the disappointment of participants in the 2011 social-justice protests over the failed response of the political establishment.

The absence of a clear candidate who could galvanize support and pose a genuine alternative to the current leadership does not reflect high popular support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but rather a quiet, simmering desperation. It is not yet a revolution. The Israeli public is not built for the barricades, and revolutions don’t happen on the eve of the soccer World Cup or the Olympics (2011 was between both). Everything happens at a snail’s pace, but at the end of the day -- see under Harpaz and Holyland -- even snails reach the finish line.

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